Former IRS senior executive Lois G. Lerner told a federal court last week that there’s “no legitimate” reason why the public should see her testimony about her role in tea party targeting, pleading with a judge to keep her deposition permanently sealed.
Ms. Lerner and her former chief lieutenant, Holly Paz, have said they faced death threats in the past, and say they fear any more attention to their behavior would spur a new round of harassment.
They said there’s “exceedingly low” public interest in having their depositions released, and they said tea party groups are pushing for disclosure out of “spite.”
“The public disclosure of this personal and sensitive information and details of the harassment would further no legitimate end while undermining substantial privacy and physical safety interests,” the women said in briefs filed by their lawyers.
The IRS has reached settlements with hundreds of tea party groups and the government admitted it bungled its handling of their nonprofit status applications during the Obama administration. The government, in one of the settlements, even singled out Ms. Lerner for specific criticism, saying she failed to stop the targeting and even hid it from her supervisors.
But Ms. Lerner’s own defense of her actions, as well as Ms. Paz’s testimony, remain secret, with the transcripts of their depositions sealed and all references to the information from those depositions redacted from other documents.
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Ms. Lerner and Ms. Paz also have not revealed much about the threats they said they faced, other than to cite “graphic, profane and disturbing language.”
The one specific instance of a threat they have cited in public documents was a June 2013 speech by Mark Meckler, a tea party leader who had helped drive the class action lawsuit against the IRS.
In that speech — just weeks after Ms. Lerner revealed the IRS’s illegal behavior — Mr. Meckler said tea party advocates could “have a lot of fun abusing these government employees.”
Ms. Lerner’s lawyer didn’t respond to requests from The Washington Times for more details on the threats.
Mr. Meckler told The Times that if Ms. Lerner manages to keep her deposition sealed it would “set an outrageous legal precedent, allowing the testimony of egregious acts by public servants to be permanently hidden.”
“The irony of this argument is astounding. The government has admitted that these people unconstitutionally targeted people based on their political beliefs. Now the individuals most responsible for the targeting wish to finish off their secret scheme to illegally target their fellow citizens, in secrecy,” he said.
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He said when Ms. Lerner accuses him of fomenting threats, it’s a continuation of the targeting she oversaw while at the IRS, and said the Obama administration repeatedly tried to force Mr. Meckler to give up the legal challenge.
“It is time to blow this scandal wide open, and the unsealing of the Lois Lerner and Holly Paz depositions would be a good first step,” he said.
Some of the two women’s information is public, including emails sent and received during the targeting.
But what that information shows has been heatedly debated.
The Justice Department under President Barack Obama cleared Ms. Lerner of any wrongdoing and even praised her for stopping the targeting when she learned of it. Under President Trump, the same department agreed to settlements admitting illegal behavior by the IRS, and blaming Ms. Lerner in particular.
“The then-Director of the [exempt organizations] Division, Lois Lerner, first became aware that the IRS received applications from Tea Party groups as early as April or May 2010. For the next two years, Lerner failed to adequately manage the EO Division employees who processed these applications,” the government said in a consent agreement reached in a case in Washington, D.C.
The government also agreed to pay out $3.5 million to settle the class action case brought by Mr. Meckler and other tea party groups in a case in Ohio.
Ms. Lerner and Ms. Paz, in the new filings, accused the tea party groups and their lawyers of ginning up pressure to release the testimony.
The women’s lawyer didn’t respond to requests seeking more information on that allegation and it’s not clear who they had in mind, though the Cincinnati Enquirer has asked the judge to unseal the depositions.
Ms. Lerner retired from the IRS in the wake of the revelations of targeting and cooperated with the Obama administration’s investigation, but she has refused to speak publicly. She was cited for contempt of Congress after refusing to answer questions in the U.S. House, but the Obama administration refused to pursue the contempt case.