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A series of emails from ex-IRS official Lois Lerner, who twice refused to answer questions from Congress about her targeting of conservative groups, reveals she was in contact with Eric Holder’s Department of Justice about prosecuting those organizations, according to the Washington watchdog group Judicial Watch.
“These new emails show that the day before she broke the news of the IRS scandal, Lois Lerner was talking to a top Obama Justice Department official about whether the DOJ could prosecute the very same organizations that the IRS had already improperly targeted,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton Wednesday.
Fitton said the IRS emails show the Department of Justice is now implicated and conflicted in the IRS scandal.
“No wonder we had to sue in federal court to get these documents,” he said.
The IRS has admitted creating special hurdles for conservatives opposing President Obama’s policies as they tried to acquire tax-exempt status leading up to the 2012 election. Among the hurdles were a demand to know the content of a group’s prayers and a promise not to protest the abortion business Planned Parenthood.
Now Judicial Watch has gone to court to get copies of the emails, which includes a May 9, 2013, message indicating the IRS planned to meet with the Department of Justice over whether to prosecute groups that “lied” about their political activity.
Judicial Watch said a new batch of internal IRS documents show Lerner, who has been referred to the full House of Representatives for a vote on contempt of Congress charges, “communicated with the Department of Justice about whether it was possible to criminally prosecute certain tax-exempt entities.”
The documents reveal an email from Lerner to Nikole C. Flax, at the time the chief of staff to acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller.
In it, the discussion focused on prosecuting nonprofits.
“I got a call today from Richard Pilger Director Elections Crimes Branch at DOJ … He wanted to know who at IRS the DOJ folk s [sic] could talk to about Sen. Whitehouse idea at the hearing that DOJ could piece together false statement cases about applicants who ‘lied’ on their 1024s –saying they weren’t planning on doing political activity, and then turning around and making large visible political expenditures. DOJ is feeling like it needs to respond, but want to talk to the right folks at IRS to see whether there are impediments from our side and what, if any damage this might do to IRS programs,” Lerner wrote. “I told him that sounded like we might need several folks from IRS.”
Flax responded: “I think we should do it – also need to include CI [Criminal Investigation Division], which we can help coordinate. Also, we need to reach out to FEC. Does it make sense to consider including them in this or keep it separate?”
Judicial Watch said the documents show Lerner then passed the issue to attorney Nancy Marks, who was then supposed to set up the meeting with DOJ. Lerner also decided that it would be DOJ’s decision as to whether representatives from the Federal Election Commission would attend.
Judicial Watch explained Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., had asked why the DOJ and IRS “have not prosecuted 501(c)(4) groups that have seemingly made false statements about their political activities.”
Lerner took up the issue in an email to IRS staff.
“As I mentioned yesterday – there are several groups of folks from the FEC world that are pushing tax fraud prosecution for c4s who report they are not conducting political activity when they are (or these folks think they are). One is my ex-boss Larry Noble (former General Counsel at the FEC), who is now president of Americans for Campaign Reform. 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.
“So, don’t be fooled about how this is being articulated – it is ALL about 501(c)(4) orgs and political activity,” she wrote.
Lerner seemed to be calling for the prosecutions even though she admitted in another email that they weren’t allowed under the law.
“Whether there was a false statement or fraud regarding an [sic] description of an alleged political expenditure that doesn’t say vote for or vote against is not realistic under current law. Everyone is looking for a magic bullet or scapegoat — there isn’t one. The law in this area is just hard,” she wrote.
The watchdog group said: “In an email to an aide responding to a request for information from a Washington Post reporter, Lerner admits that she ‘can’t confirm that there was anyone on the other side of the political spectrum’ who had been targeted by the IRS. She then adds that ‘The one with the names used were only know [sic] because they have been very loud in the press.'”
Another email from an aide specifically draws to Lerner’s attention “Tea Party Organizations,” the “Tea Party movement” and “Tea Party Patriots.”
Judicial Watch launched its federal Freedom of Information Act requests and eventual lawsuit after a May 14, 2013, Treasury Inspector General report revealing that the IRS had singled out groups with conservative-sounding terms such as “patriot” and “Tea Party” in their titles when applying for tax-exempt status.
The Treasury report found: “Early in Calendar Year 2010, the IRS began using inappropriate criteria to identify organizations applying for tax-exempt status to (e.g., lists of past and future donors).”
The campaign, which critics believe traces to the highest levels of government, stretched on for months and “delayed processing of targeted groups’ applications” preparing for the 2012 presidential election.
Lerner was director of the IRS branch that dealt with applications for tax-exempt status at the time, although she later left amid calls to remove her.
Congress now is reviewing its work with Lerner, since she refused to testify in May 2013 before the House Oversight Committee and again during another hearing just weeks ago.
WND reported recently when a member of Congress revealed the IRS also mounted Big Brother-type surveillance of groups that already were authorized to operate at the time.
The confirmation from Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, came days after WND reported the IRS even today sends small exempt organizations to a major progressive think tank to have tax information processed.
In a statement first released in the Wall Street Journal, Camp said his committee’s ongoing investigation discovered the federal government singling out established groups “for audits.”
“We now know that the IRS targeted not only right-leaning applicants, but also right-leaning groups that were already operating as 501(c)4s,” Camp said. “At Washington, D.C.’s direction, dozens of groups operating as 501(c)4s were flagged for IRS surveillance, including monitoring of the groups’ activities, websites and any other publicly available information.”
Camp’s committee was to oppose IRS plans for a raft of new regulations that would target the speech rights of those right-leaning organizations, by determining that efforts such as candidate forums or voter information drives would be designated as “political” speech and therefore banned.
Camp said those rules “are a blatant attempt to legalize and institutionalize targeting by the IRS, and are designed to put conservative groups out of business. It is no wonder the IRS tried to develop this rule behind closed doors and out of the public’s view.”
“I want to be perfectly clear – this committee will fight any and all efforts to restrict the rights of groups to organize, speak out and educate the public, just as unions are allowed to do so,” he said. “We will get to the bottom of this, and I expect the IRS to produce – quickly – the outstanding documents the committee has requested.”
WND reported that those small exempt organizations are directed by the IRS itself to file confidential tax information through the Urban Institute, whose chief is linked to the Center for American Progress, the source for many of Barack Obama’s ultra-progressive agenda items as president.
Cleta Mitchell, a top Washington attorney, told WND: “If true, this is a violation of federal law. And since most of the tea-party groups have annual revenues of [$50,000] or less, this would redirect their filings to a group whose mission is fundamentally at odds with tea-party organizations.”
Mitchell said federal law “strictly prohibits the disclosure of confidential taxpayer information to persons outside the IRS.”
“It is a felony to disseminate the information,” she said.
“Surely this cannot be happening. Surely,” said Mitchell. “This would be well more than a ‘smidgen’ of corruption.”
Mitchell, a partner in the Washington-based law firm Foley & Lardner LLP, is well known for providing expert legal advice to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.