One of the IRS officials whose emails were lost in a “computer crash” was responsible for spinning Congress about the agency’s targeting of nonprofit groups, according to 2012 emails obtained by Congress.
Nikole Flax served as ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s point person on delaying and reviewing all IRS responses to questions about what Lerner called “c4 stuff.” Flax was tasked with emailing “affirmative messages” to IRS officials if she approved of their responses to questions about the targeting.
Flax, a frequent White House visitor, is one of seven IRS employees whose emails were allegedly destroyed in a wave of computer crashes that afflicted the IRS’ Washington and Cincinnati offices. Flax worked under Lerner in the IRS Exempt Organizations division before becoming chief of staff to then-IRS commissioner Steven T. Miller. Lerner’s emails, including messages to and from the White House, were also allegedly lost in her own computer crash.
Flax joined Lerner at a February 2010 conference at Washington’s Grand Hyatt Hotel to tell fellow government employees about the IRS’ new targeting of nonprofit groups at a conference that featured the seminar, “Will the IRS Come Knocking? What You Need To Know About IRS Audit Plans And Practices For Tax Exempts.”
But more than two years later, people on Capitol Hill started asking questions about the program put in place by Lerner and Flax.
Flax responded to 2012 letters from members of Congress asking about the agency’s scrutiny of 501(c)(4) groups, including from Democrats who wanted the agency to change regulations on groups to allow less political activity. The IRS was aware that the media knew about the 501(c)(4) issue.
Flax wrote to fellow IRS officials, including Lerner, that she wanted to delay any IRS responses to the letters and that she also wanted to personally approve any responses before sending them.
The congressional letters “created a ton of issues including from Treasury and [the] timing [is] not ideal,” Flax wrote in a July 24, 2012 email to Lerner.
“That is why I told them every letter had to go thru you,” Lerner replied to Flax. “Don’t know why this didn’t, but have now told all involved, I hope! Sorry for all the noise. It is just stupid, but not welcome, I’m sure.”
Lerner then sent an email instructing top IRS officials to make sure that all responses related to “c4 stuff” must first be screened by Flax and gain an “affirmative message” from Flax.
“I know you all have received messages independently, but I wanted all to hear the same message at same time,” Lerner wrote on July 24, 2012 to IRS officials including Holly Paz, Lerner’s Washington-based supervisor of tax-exempt applications.
“Regardless whether language has previously been approved, NO responses related to c4 stuff go out without an affirmative message, in writing from Nikole,” Lerner wrote.
Flax made 31 visits to the White House between July 12, 2010 and May 8, 2013, according to White House visitor logs. Flax’s visits started in the early days of the IRS targeting program and ended just two days before the IRS scandal broke on May 10, 2013.
Flax met twice in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with deputy assistant to the president for health policy Jeanne Lambrew, on Oct. 5, 2012 and Jan. 15, 2013.