Emails made public by the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday afternoon reveal that in early December 2012, Lois Lerner suggested to an Internal Revenue Service colleague that they ought to refer Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) to the agency’s examination division over an invitation he received to speak at a seminar.
The email was among the documents turned over to Congressional investigators who are looking into the agency’s targeting of politically active groups seeking non-profit status in the years leading up to the 2012 elections. Lerner was head of the agency’s exempt organizations division at the time the email was sent. The agency has come under intense criticism after revealing that two years’ worth of Lerner’s emails were lost in a computer crash.
“We have seen a lot of unbelievable things in this investigation, but the fact that Lois Lerner attempted to initiate an apparently baseless IRS examination against a sitting Republican United States Senator is shocking,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI).
“At every turn, Lerner was using the IRS as a tool for political purposes in defiance of taxpayer rights. We may never know the full extent of the abuse since the IRS conveniently lost two years of Lerner emails, not to mention those of other key figures in this scandal,” he said.
Despite Camp’s tone of outrage, the emails appear to show a Lois Lerner who is less a mastermind of agency overreach than a bureaucrat confused about what the IRS can and cannot do.
The issue grew out of a mistake. Lerner and Grassley were both invited to speak at a seminar (the details of the event have been redacted) but Grassley’s invitation was mistakenly mailed to Lerner. She evidently read the invitation and noted that the sponsor of the event offered to pay the expenses of Grassley’s wife if she wanted to attend.
“Looked like they were inappropriately offering to pay for his wife. Perhaps we should refer to Exam,” she wrote in a December 4, 2012 email to IRS colleague Matthew L. Giuliano.
A little more than an hour later, Giuliano wrote her back, suggesting the referral probably wasn’t a good idea.
“Not sure we should send to exam. The offer to pay for Grassley’s wife is income to Grassley, and not prohibited on its face…We would need to wait for: (i) Grassley to accept and attend the speaking arrangement, and (ii) then determine whether [redacted] issues him a 1099. And even without the 1099, it would be Grassley who would need to report the income on his 1040. Either way [redacted] My .02.”
The new revelation, such as it is, comes after IRS Commissioner John Koskinen endured two bruising days of testimony before Camp’s committee and the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee. In each, GOP lawmakers made it clear that they intend to continue digging into the Lerner affair. Today’s release from Ways and Means is likely the first of many.
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