The scandal over the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party-related groups for extra scrutiny in the years prior to the 2012 election may never die. After years of Congressional investigations and an admission by the Obama administration that IRS workers had wrongly delayed the processing of applications for tax-exempt status from right-wing groups, the drip-drip of information about the controversy continues.
Judicial Watch, the conservative activist groups that crusades against what it sees as governmental overreach, has released a trove of emails to and from former IRS employee Lois Lerner. Lerner, who once headed the agency’s tax-exempt organizations division, has long been at the center of the controversy because she refused to testify before Congress and because a large number of her official emails were lost in a computer crash from the time the targeting took place.
Original claims by the IRS that many of the emails were beyond recovery were apparently inaccurate, because the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration was able to find them on various backup media. (However, the agency did admit that numerous backup tapes were physically destroyed, something that enraged members of Congress sufficiently to call for the potential impeachment of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.)
Judicial Watch claims that the new batch of emails makes a key connection that opponents of the administration have been searching for: knowledge of the targeting by officials in Washington, DC. The administration’s original defense was that the practice was limited to a few “bad apples” in Ohio.
But the emails suggest at minimum a passing knowledge of serious backlogs in the Exempt Organizations division by senior IRS official Steve Miller, who would later go on to become the agency’s acting commissioner.
They also suggest that much of the delay in processing conservative groups’ applications was attributable not to the Cincinnati office where much of the original assessment work took place, but to officials in Washington withholding final approval. However the evidence presented doesn’t make it clear that the backlog was politically motivated.
The Judicial Watch release also contains a fairly damning email from an IRS official in Cincinnati admitting that she had sent a follow-up email to one applicant asking for additional information not because the agency needed it, but because officials were concerned that the group, in frustration with the process, would take its complaints to Congress.
“We’re getting calls… wanting to know who has put the halt on working these cases and threatening to contact their Congressional offices. Just today, I instructed one of my managers to get an additional information letter out to one of these organizations — if nothing else to buy time so he didn’t contact his Congressional Office. Soon, we’re going to start getting TAO’s [Taxpayer Assistance Orders] from TAS [Taxpayer Advocate Service] or declaratory judgment cases filed.”
“These recovered Lois Lerner emails had to be dragged out of the Obama IRS, which is still resisting a federal court order requiring disclosure of Lerner’s ‘lost’ emails,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “This material shows that the IRS’ cover-up began years ago. We now have smoking-gun proof that top officials in the Obama IRS unlawfully harassed taxpayers just to keep them from complaining to Congress about IRS’ targeting and abuse.”
Fitton may be overstating his case slightly, but one thing the emails make clear is that the IRS targeting scandal is not going away.