A LOT MORE THAN A SMIDGEON
President Obama told Bill O’Reilly of Fox News that there is not even a “smidgeon” of evidence to support the existence of an IRS scandal whereby IRS unlawfully discriminated against Tea Party groups seeking tax exempt status. It looks like Obama is deserving of another four Pinnochios from the Washington Post.
Email correspondence from former IRS Tax Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner contradict the President’s assertion and raise new questions concerning why the President would leap to a conclusion of innocence in the presence of so much evidence suggesting guilt.
Congressman Darrell Issa and other leading House Republicans on the Government Reform and Oversight Committee believe they now know the motive behind the targeting of Tea Party and conservative non-profits by the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations Division: an attempt to undermine the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That 5 to 4 decision held restrictions on independent political expenditures by corporations, associations, and labor unions unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The President and leading Democrats condemned the decision, viewing it as a major threat to election prospects for Democrats. Indeed, in his 2010 State of the Union Address, President Obama went out of his way to send a salvo across the bow of the Supreme Court. He said: “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities—they should be decided by the American people.”
Thereafter the President repeatedly signaled that he wanted his Administration to undermine Citizens United. On October 19, 2010, IRS Tax Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner plainly revealed that she got the message from the President, writing in an email to her staff (that echoes the language used by the President): “The Supreme Court dealt a huge blow, overturning a 100-year-old precedent that basically corporations couldn’t give directly to political campaigns. And everyone is up in arms because they don’t like it. The Federal Election Commission can’t do anything about it. They want the IRS to fix the problem.”
This thinking gave rise to the notion of causing Tea Party and conservative groups seeking tax exempt status to experience discriminatory treatment and excessive processing delays, thereby encumbering those groups’ efforts to obtain sizeable financial contributions directly preceding the mid-term 2010 and presidential 2012 elections.
In a February 2011 email to her staff, Lerner describes the “tea party matter” as “very dangerous.” She writes, “Counsel [apparently meaning the IRS Office of the Chief Counsel] and [Lerner Advisor] Judy Kindell need to be in on” this. Lerner writes, “Cincy [meaning the IRS’s Cincinnati District Office] should probably NOT have these cases,” revealing a desire to get the Tea Party applications transferred to IRS Washington for evaluation, thereby laying a foundation to avoid routine application review.
After the Citizens United case came down and the President pressed for action to undermine it, Lerner in an email supported the targeting then underway and cautioned about the need for a plan to mask the appearance of the illegal discrimination, writing: “We need to have a plan. We need to be cautious so it isn’t a per se political project. More a c4 project that will look at levels of lobbying and pol[itical] activity along with exempt activity.”
IRS Washington rendered systematic the targeting of Tea Party groups, causing IRS legal reviewers to follow a template that ensured discriminatory treatment of those groups’ applications. One of Lerner’s underlings, a Ms. Holly Paz (a partisan for Obama who donated $2,000 to his political campaign in 2008) wrote the following in an email to Lerner: The Tea Party applications are “being supervised by [IRS lawyer Carter] Hull at each step . . . He reviews info from [Tea Parties], correspondence to [Tea Parties] etc. No decisions are going out of Cincy until we go all the way through the process with the c3 and c4 cases here [i.e., in Washington, D.C.].
In an email to Lois Lerner dated July 10, 2012, her adviser Sharon Light sent Lerner a National Public Radio story which suggested that conservative and libertarian funding sources were making it difficult for Democrats to retain a Senate majority. Further revealing her political bias, Lerner responded, “perhaps the [Federal Election Commission] will save the day” and, indeed, the FEC did investigate certain of the groups.
There is far more here than less than a smidgeon. Indeed, the evidence suggests a large scale, systematic IRS targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups for discriminatory treatment in violation of federal law with Lois Lerner playing a central role in implementing the plan. The real question is not whether there is such evidence but whether this Administration will honor its transparency pledge and allow the Government Oversight and Reform Committee access to the evidence. Thus far, the Administration has been stonewalling and denying the existence of the very scandal the emails and IRS official testimony show existed. The central issue remains: How high up does this scandal go? It appears to have reached the level of the IRS Commissioner and the IRS Chief Counsel, the only two IRS officials appointed by the President. But were the President’s aides involved? Was the President himself involved? We have a right to know.
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