Another batch of previously unreleased Internal Revenue Service emails is being showcased by a conservative legal nonprofit as evidence of politicized coordination between the tax agency, the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department.
Judicial Watch on Wednesday released documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request filed in October 2013. The group says the documents show that Lois Lerner, the since-resigned head of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, inquired at Justice as to “whether it was possible to criminally prosecute certain tax-exempt entities.”
One of the email exchanges between Lerner and Nikole C. Flax, then-chief of staff to then-Acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller, discusses plans to work with Justice to prosecute nonprofit groups that “lied” (Lerner’s quotation marks) about political activities, Judicial Watch noted in a press release.
One email has Lerner commenting that some nonprofits applying for exempt status during her division’s later controversial handling of the applications were “saying they weren’t planning on doing political activity, and then turning around and making large visible political expenditures. DOJ is feeling like it needs to respond, but want to talk to the right folks at IRS to see whether there are impediments from our side and what, if any damage this might do to IRS programs.”
Other emails released by the legal group discuss proposals to consult the FEC—Lerner’s former employer—and contain a reference by Lerner, possibly in jest, of landing a job in a Democratic nonprofit in Washington.
“These new emails show that the day before she broke the news of the IRS scandal, Lois Lerner was talking to a top Obama Justice Department official about whether the DOJ could prosecute the very same organizations that the IRS had already improperly targeted,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The IRS emails show Eric Holder’s Department of Justice is now implicated and conflicted in the IRS scandal. No wonder we had to sue in federal court to get these documents.”
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., released a statement saying, “These emails are part of an overwhelming body of evidence that political pressure from prominent Democrats led to the targeting of Americans for their political beliefs.
Committee member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who has complained with Issa about what the lawmakers view as the agency’s slow response in turning over documents, said, “Now I see why the IRS is scared to give up the rest of Lois Lerner’s emails.”
As of Thursday, the release had drawn little commentary, and Government Executive inquiries to Justice, IRS and congressional Democrats elicited no responses.
Peter Roff, a former UPI reporter who now works for conservative advocacy groups, wrote on U.S. News & World Report’s website Wednesday that “the so-called ‘smoking gun’ proving the Internal Revenue Service played politics with conservative groups seeking official non-profit, social welfare status over the last several years may finally have been found.”
Roff singled out an email dated April 15, 2013 -- weeks before the IRS controversy was ignited by a report on “targeting” by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration -- in which a Treasury official and Lerner discuss the need to “get on the stick and that the next election cycle is around the corner.”
Paul Streckfus, an attorney who follows the IRS controversy in his newsletter on exempt organizations, noted that the latest developments help both sides. He reprinted an essay published Wednesday by Baltimore Sun television critic David Zurawik reporting on how Oversight panel Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., has recently been attacked on Fox News for allegedly steering the IRS to go after right-leaning groups. At the same time, Zurawik wrote , left-leaning publications such as Mother Jones publish headlines stating that the charges against the IRS from Republicans make no sense.
“While it is factually true that there are emails, each side is spinning the content and context of the missives so hard, it is all but impossible to determine whether they prove Cummings' innocence or complicity,” Zurawik wrote. “Both Issa and Cummings, like Fox News and Mother Jones, say they are on the side of democracy, truth and ordinary citizens -- and that the other side is Satan in a blue suit with an American flag pin in the lapel. Perhaps it has always been thus with Washington politicians. But it wasn't always thus with the media. And that's one of the major reasons we are such a hopelessly confused, jangled and troubled nation these days.”