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NEW YORK – The scandal involving IRS discrimination against conservative groups is about to reach a new level of intensity.
A top Washington-based lawyer with expertise in IRS tax-exempt organizations has filed the first of several anticipated federal lawsuits against the IRS that will force the agency to hand over documents and answer questions under oath.
“We are going to require documents and testimony from all the IRS higher-ups and agents involved that we know were involved with reviewing the True the Vote application,” attorney Cleta Mitchell explained to WND in an interview.
“We are going to find out through the process of discovery in this lawsuit exactly what the IRS was doing, who was doing it, why they were doing it,” she said.
Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of True the Vote, agrees.
“Cleta Mitchell’s strategy to press for discovery against the IRS, to my mind right now, is the best opportunity to pull back the layers of the IRS scandal and understand who knew what, when,” Engelbrecht told WND.
Engelbrecht said she intends to work very closely with Mitchell in the federal lawsuit filed against the IRS.
She said her non-partisan organization, which filed for tax-exempt status three years ago, has been “singled out, and I want to know who pointed those agencies at us.”
During that time, her family business and the personal finances of her and her husband have been audited for two years, she said.
Her business was subjected to Occupational Safety and Health Administration audits that found only minor problems but resulted in fines totaling $25,000.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives subjected her business to an unannounced audit, and the FBI began plying the Engelbrechts with questions that seemed more like a fishing expedition than a serious inquiry.
Mitchell, a partner in the Washington law firm Foley & Lardner LLP, is widely known in the nation’s capital as a legal powerhouse who commands wide respect among GOP conservatives for her ability to cause grief to Democrats playing fast and loose with the law in pursuit of a liberal agenda.
With more than 40 years experience in law, politics and public policy, Mitchell has extensive expertise representing conservatives seeking to form and operate IRS tax-exempt 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 groups.
“I believe through the process of discovery, we are going to discover an ongoing, systematic and pervasive IRS pattern of using the tax code to discriminate against and harass conservative activists and tax-exempt foundations seeking tax-exempt status to promote conservative causes,” Mitchell said.
On May 21, the ActRight Legal Foundation, a 501(c)3 public interest law firm, in conjunction with Mitchell, sued the IRS in federal district court on behalf of their client, True the Vote, a Houston, Texas-based non-profit voters’ rights organization. The group is asking the court to grant its three-year pending application with the IRS for tax-exempt status and seeks damages for unlawful actions by the federal agency.
Mitchell, acting as legal counsel to True the Vote and of counsel to ActRight Legal Foundation, explained to WND that a major benefit of filing the federal lawsuit involves discovery, a process through which True the Vote as plaintiff can to petition the Court to subpoena IRS records, including internal emails and memoranda relative to the case, as well as compel testimony from IRS employees, as part of the plaintiff’s pre-trial preparation leading to a federal district court civil trial.
“Through the process of discovery, we should be able to get any and all communications within the IRS regarding the True the Vote application, including emails and internal IRS communications, to find out exactly what the IRS was doing in relation to the True the Vote application.”
WND asked Engelbrecht if she suspected the OSHA and ATF examinations resulted from information the IRS leaked to the agencies with the intent to harass her.
“That much remains to be seen,” she responded. “But it doesn’t take too far a stretch to realize that some of the questions we were being asked by the IRS didn’t have much to do with a non-profit application.”
Mitchell told WND the True the Vote case was only the first of several lawsuits she plans to file in conjunction with the ActRight Legal Foundation against the IRS tax-exempt division.
The next case likely will be brought by the National Organization for Marriage, alleging the IRS illegally released to the press the group’s 2008 Form 990 Schedule B tax information in direct contravention of federal law.
“The tax code in the United States was never supposed to allow government employees to make up the law as they go along, behind closed doors, so they can selectively target certain citizens or organizations for treatment that is inconsistent with how everybody else is treated,” Mitchell stressed.
Engelbrecht told WND she and her husband have filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests in an attempt to get to the bottom of what caused the IRS, OSHA, ATF and FBI inquiries.
“The only result of the FOIA requests so far is that we got from OSHA late last week a letter saying copying the more than 320 pages in our file would cost somewhere over $100 and we agreed to pay,” she noted. “That seemed a little much to me, but I’m curious to see what the contents of our OSHA file will reveal.”
ActRight Legal Foundation has set up an IRS litigation fund seeking public contributions to help defray the costs of legal representation in the True the Vote federal lawsuit against the IRS.