LOS ANGELES, September 24, 2013—While the world had its eyes on Syria, and the nation is still trying to figure out Obamacare a week shy of the implementation, the IRS scandal continues unabated, despite the minimal news coverage.
The House Oversight Committee has unearthed more evidence against Lois Lerner, the former director of the Exempt Organizations (EO) division. Lerner is complicit in targeting Tea Party groups who applied for tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012.
As reported in May by National Review Online, Lerner signed cover letters to 15 conservative organizations currently represented by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) between March and April of 2012.
These letters informed the groups that the IRS was “unable to make a final determination on your exempt status without additional information,” and included a list of detailed questions; questions that the Treasury inspector general’s audit found to be inappropriate. We are in the twilight of 2013, and some of these groups are still waiting for approval.
Today we find out that Lois Lerner is retiring at age 62, after 34 years of public service. Seven of those years were with the IRS EO division. After the scandal first broke, Lerner was placed on paid leave, which is essentially a paid vacation.
Along with “languishing” at home, Lerner was asked to give the commencement speech at New England University School of Law, and was presented an award from the University for her public service work.
You cannot make this stuff up.
Now Lerner will most likely retain her full pension and benefits, since she was not officially removed from her position. So the message here is, you screw over taxpaying citizens while you are in a position of power, then retire, getting a permanent vacation on the same taxpayer’s dime.
The timing of all this is curious. Over the past few weeks, the Oversight Committee has unearthed more emails that debunk Lerner’s claim on May 10 that she “had not done anything wrong.” When you are the head of a non-partisan organization, dealing with a particular group based on your political proclivities, then you are indeed doing something wrong. These emails point to this in more detail, and appear to corroborate the IRS Cincinnati employees’ claims that their orders came from Washington, D.C.
In an email dated Feb. 01, 2011, Lerner dubbed the Tea Party matter as “very dangerous” and stressed that “Cincy [Cincinnati] should probably NOT have these cases”
As more conservative groups complained to their congressmen and senators, and congressional pressure over the IRS targeting mounted with the Inspector General audit, Lerner waxed philosophic in a June 25, 2012 email.
“It is what it is. Although the original story isn’t as pretty as we’d like, once we learned this [sic] were off track, we have done what we can to change the process, better educate our staff and move the cases. So, we will get dinged, but we took steps before the “dinging” to make things better and we have written procedures.”
If that does not smack of arrogance and cover up, I am not sure what does. This response reads unapologetic, if not overly smug. One wonders how smug she is feeling now?
Make no mistake: Lois Lerner was a willing, convenient, and complicit party in the entire targeting scandal. Whether for the glory of boasting that she was the hand that muzzled the Tea Party, or the money (perhaps a chunk of that $70-million in bonuses), or the prestige of protecting her own political party and turf, we may never know.
What we do know is Lerner was actively involved for quite some time, and instrumental in the strategy used against conservative and Tea Party groups, and in the talking points fed to the Inspector General and the Oversight Committee.
James Taranto took to the Wall Street Journal to spotlight the other parties complicit in the scandal: the news media. Using an Oversight Committee staff’s interim update memo from early September, Taranto found the central finding in the memo was: “‘Media attention caused the IRS to treat conservative-oriented tax-exempt applications differently’ from liberal or progressive ones.”
Taranto continues, “In May we [the Wall Street Journal] faulted the [New York] Times for ‘cheering on the IRS’ as it abused its power. Now we have confirmation that the IRS got the message.”
This point is brought further home in Lerner’s July 10, 2012 email. In this one, Lerner received an attached NPR article titled Democrats Say Anonymous Donors Unfairly Influencing Senate Races. The article pays particular attention to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) lawsuit filed against Crossroads GPS by the Obama campaign, and expresses a desire for this case to be a litmus test by which these types of conservative groups might be derailed. Attorney and former FEC chief counsel Larry Noble referred to it as a “chilling effect” to stop these organization’s activities.
Lerner’s reply to the sender? “Perhaps the FEC will save the day.”
Save the day from what? Americans exercise of their free speech rights? Ensuring elections are only weighted to one side? The blatant partisanship is truly appalling.
At the news of Lerner’s retirement, ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow had a few choice words:
“It is our hope that Congress continues its investigation and recalls her to testify about the new evidence revealed in recent weeks - evidence that reveals her partisanship and entrenched involvement in this scheme. Her retirement—along with her continued compensation—is deeply disturbing and sends the wrong message about accountability.”
The FBI will soon mount a criminal investigation into the IRS, but with the corrupt handling by the attorney general on other matters, it is doubtful anything will come of it. Congress will continue its investigation, which is akin to a dripping faucet.
My bets for justice lie with Sekulow and the ACLJ, as they press forward with its lawsuit brought on behalf of the 41 conservative groups in 22 states who were targeted by Ms. Lerner and her band of merry agents.
A right message would involve Lerner not collecting any more taxpayer money until she is held responsible for her plot against the First Amendment rights of the people who paid for her 34 years of “public service”.
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