IRS emails reveal discussion with Justice about suing nonprofits

Lerner: ‘One prosecution would make an impact’

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IRS emails released Wednesday show that just before the tea party targeting scandal was revealed last year, Lois G. Lerner and her colleagues at the tax agency were talking with the Justice Department about making examples out of nonprofit groups that they felt were violating campaign laws by playing political roles.

The emails, obtained by Judicial Watch, also show that Ms. Lerner was reluctant to face questions from Congress even before her first hearing, at which she asserted her right to remain silent. It was an indication that she distrusted Republican motives from the start.


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The emails also show how important congressional Democrats were in pushing for action at the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department, which talked about how to follow up on a senator’s demand to pursue a test case against a nonprofit group that was spending money on politics.

“Not only do these emails further prove the coordination among the IRS, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the Justice Department and committee Democrats to target conservatives, they also show that had our committee not requested the Inspector General’s investigation when we did, Eric Holder’s politicized Justice Department would likely have been leveling trumped up criminal charges against Tea Party groups to intimidate them from exercising their Constitutional rights,” Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who is leading an investigative subcommittee looking into the IRS, said in a statement.

In May 2013, just before the IRS targeting was publicly exposed, Ms. Lerner fielded a request from the Justice Department to talk about following up on Senate Democrats’ push to prosecute groups that the lawmakers thought “lied” when they told the FEC that they wouldn’t be conducting political activities but made political expenditures anyway.

The Justice Department requested a meeting to talk about what to do and wanted to know whether that would interfere with the IRS.

“I think we should do it,” Ms. Lerner replied in an internal IRS email laying out early plans for the meeting.

A day after that communication, the IRS admitted to targeting tea party groups. It’s unclear whether the meeting ever took place.

Earlier in 2013, IRS employees were talking on another email chain about the push among some campaign finance activists to have the IRS sue a nonprofit group over its campaign activities. In her part of the conversation, Ms. Lerner said her boss from a prior job at the FEC was one of those pushing for a lawsuit.

“This is their latest push to shut these down. One IRS prosecution would make an impact and they wouldn’t feel so comfortable doing the stuff,” Ms. Lerner said.

But in another part of that email thread, she acknowledged that it would be difficult to define “whether a particular expenditure was political intervention.”

“Whether there was a false statement or fraud regarding [a] description of an alleged political expenditure that doesn’t say vote for or vote against is not realistic under current law,” she said. “Everyone is looking for a magic bullet or scapegoat — there isn’t one. The law in this area is just hard.”

Judicial Watch said it had to sue to compel the IRS to turn over the emails.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has told Congress that his agency already has turned over hundreds of thousands of documents, but it will be the end of the year before his agency can turn over the rest of Ms. Lerner’s emails and years before it can produce all of the documents that House Republicans have demanded.

In the meantime, Republicans are pushing ahead with action against Ms. Lerner.

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