WASHINGTON – The government watchdog group Judicial Watch has unearthed more bombshells in the IRS scandal, using the federal court system to get information Congress has been unable to obtain directly from the tax agency or the Justice Department.
Tom Fitton, the group’s president, told WND the scandal has now become so massive, “President Nixon resigned over lesser abuses of the IRS.”
The just-released emails reveal the IRS had a “secret research project” using lists of donors to mostly conservative organizations that an agency attorney appeared to admit it never should have had in its possession.
The documents do not describe the project or show how the IRS used the names on the lists, but they do show they were in the possession of Lois Lerner, the former agency employee and central figure in the scandal.
Referring to all the emails released Thursday by Judicial Watch, Fitton told WND, “These documents show how justice has been abused by this administration. That Eric Holder’s Justice Department has done no serious criminal investigation of the IRS abuses is no surprise since that agency is implicated in the scandal and obstructed investigations.”
One of the email exchanges revealed Lerner warned a colleague that Congress was asking “dangerous” questions about their targeting of conservative nonprofit organizations.
Congress has been stymied in its attempts to get much of the information from the IRS and the Justice Department that Judicial Watch has been able to obtain through the legal system.
The documents are the latest emails Judicial Watch has obtained as part of a lawsuit it filed in October 2013 after the IRS refused to comply with Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requests dating back to May 2013.
Attorney General Eric Holder has ignored a contempt of Congress citation against Lerner and a recommendation by a congressional committee to file criminal charges in the IRS scandal.
But Judicial Watch has been able to use FOIAs to obtain a series of documents with explosive revelations that have helped House committees keep their investigations into the IRS scandal alive.
“We are doing the work of the Department of Justice, the media and Congress. We are thankful that the court process still works and our lawsuit is, right now, the last best hope for accountability and truth in this massive scandal,” Fitton told WND.
These latest documents show Lerner had obtained the donor lists and that 75 percent of the groups were apparently conservative and only 5 percent were liberal.
When Lerner used a planted question on May 10, 2013 to disclose the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups, as a congressional investigation began to bear down upon her, she conceded the requests for donor names was “not appropriate.”
An email just revealed by Judicial Watch from Deputy Associate Chief Counsel Margo L. Stevens to Lerner had instructed her on May 21, 2012, that “such information was not needed across-the-board and not used in making the agency’s determination on exempt status,” implying the information should never have been in Lerner’s possession, in her capacity as head of the IRS’ tax-exempt division.
Judicial Watch said key parts of that email and other emails had been blacked out. In fact, many of the documents were completely blacked out.
Judicial Watch said the Obama administration was not required by law to withhold any of that information, and it may have been using a FOIA exemption when material is deemed “pre-decisional” or deliberative.”
An email thread a month later, on June 27, 2012, showed the donor lists were being used for a “secret research project.”
Judicial Watch said the emails, with the subject line “donor names,” included this exchange:
June 27, 2012: 8:59 a.m. – David L. Fish, IRS acting director of Exempt Organizations Rulings and Agreements, to Holly Paz:
Joseph Urban [IRS Technical Advisor, Tax Exempt and Government Entities] had actually started a secret research project on whether we could, consistent with 6104, argue that [REDACTED] Joe was quite agitated yesterday when I told him what we were doing. (He was involved when the initial question was raised, but we didn’t continue reading him in). At one point he started saying that this was a decision for Steve Miller – I told him we were already doing it, and that I didn’t know whether Lois had already talked to Nikole [former IRS Chief of Staff to IRS Commissioner Steve Miller] about this. Would not be surprised if he already started working on Lois.
June 27, 2012 9:02 a.m. – Holly Paz to David L. Fish:
Thanks for the heads up. The decision was made by Steve, based on advice from P and A. [Procedure and Administration]
It was on the very next day, June 28, 2012, that Lerner warned Paz that congressional and TIGTA inquiries into their IRS procedures were becoming “dangerous.”
June 28, 2012 8:57 a.m. – Paz to Lerner: “Now TIGTA wants to talk to me. I am guessing they read this morning’s paper. [Apparent reference to Wall Street Journal article concerning IRS scrutiny of Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS tax exempt status] Will keep you posted.”
June 28, 2012 9:13 a.m. – Lerner to Paz: “Not alone. Wait til I am there.”
June 28, 2012 09:17 a.m. – Paz to Lerner: “Sorry. Too late. He already called me. It was not about WSJ. Just him trying to get better understanding of the scope of the [House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave] Camp [R-MI] request.”
June 28, 2012 8:22 a.m. – Lerner to Paz: “Just as dangerous. I’ll talk to you soon. Be there in half hour.”
Judicial Watch believes the “dangerous” request was apparently a letter sent by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., to the head of the IRS requesting copies of all 501(c)(4) (tax-exempt status) applications from 2010 and 2011.
The concern by Lerner and other IRS officials apparently began just after they were informed, in late March 2012, their process for reviewing tax-exempt applications was under investigation in the form of an audit conducted by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA.
On May 17, 2013, then-IRS Commissioner Steve Miller testified before Congress that “instructions had been given to destroy any donor lists,” but, four months later, donor lists were actually turned over to the House Ways and Means Committee.
The committee then announced, a year later, on May 7, 2014, that, of the scores of conservative groups that provided donor information to the IRS, “nearly one in ten donors were subject to audit.”
During an interview on Super Bowl Sunday in February, President Obama claimed there was “not even a smidgen” of corruption in the IRS scandal.
But, in a statement released by Judicial Watch, Fitton said, “[I]t is well past time that President Obama should be held to account about his repeated and recent falsehoods about his IRS scandal.”