DOJ’s Lois Lerner Letter Leaves Much To Be Answered

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Juliegrace Brufke Capitol Hill Reporter
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The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) explanation as to why top Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official Lois Lerner isn’t facing criminal charges leaves much to be desired.

DOJ announced in a letter to Congress Friday it is closing its investigation into whether Lerner unfairly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

After a two-year probe — which faced challenges due to Lerner’s crashed hard drive, the absence of email archives and the destruction of over 400 electronic backup tapes — the DOJ said it was unable to prove the IRS official “intentionally discriminated against an applicant based upon viewpoint” and cited line-employees’ “ignorance, inertia” and “negligence” for delays in Tea Party applications. Concerns raised by lawmakers over the course of the investigation were omitted from the department’s explanation.

The DOJ’s letter failed to address whether investigators looked into who could have had access to Lerner’s private email account, which she sometimes used for official business — an issue members of the Ways and Means Committee asked to be investigated in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in April 2014.

If someone in her household — for example her husband, tax attorney Michael Miles — was able to view the account, confidential taxpayer information could have been exposed, violating IRS section 6103. Breaking the IRS’s rule on confidentiality and disclosure of returns and return information is a felony punishable by fines up to $5,000 and a maximum of five years in prison.

“They were well equipped with this cadre of investigators and FBI to go do that, and I don’t think they did that,”a GOP aide told The Daily Caller News Foundation about the investigation.

The agency failed to return numerous calls and emails from TheDCNF inquiring on whether the matter was reviewed.

The letter also failed to shed any light on Lerner’s misleading response to questions from the Treasury inspector general for tax administration during the investigation. Lerner, who refused to testify before Congress, claimed problems emerged over an uptick in applications seen by the agency. This is disputed by the inspector general, whose numbers show applications went down in 2010. Lerner also consulted an IRS official via email to discuss talking points before making the claim. She was told there wasn’t a reliable method to track political activity.

The DOJ dismissed the backup of hundreds of conservative organizations’ applications for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) status as mistakes caused by the confusion over processing by lower-level employees in the Cincinnati office. Email chains between locations indicate the Ohio workers were following procedure while Washington instructed them to continue to hold the applications that had been flagged over potential media attention. Lerner used the excuse during her apology for targeting groups with words like “patriot” and Tea Party” in their names, claiming her motives weren’t driven by partisan bias.

“Cincinnati wasn’t publicly ‘thrown under the bus’ (but) instead was hit by a convoy of Mack trucks,” said Cindy Thomas, former director of the IRS exempt organizations office in Cincinnati, in an email to Lerner in 2015.

While Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said the agency “cannot show that these messages related to her official duties and actions with respect to the handling of these tax-exempt applications,” the Senate Committee on Finance’s investigation compiled blatant evidence of political motives behind the targeting of conservatives in their investigation.

Using her IRS email, Lerner made her politics known, calling the “Tea Party Matter very dangerous” and making expletive remarks against conservative political radio hosts.

Shortly after conducting a meeting with left-leaning organization Democracy 21, which filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against Crossroads GPS in addition to other conservative groups, Karl Rove’s nonprofit began to face intensive scrutiny from the government agency. Despite having appeared before the Political Activities Referral Committee twice, which said both times an audit was not necessary, email correspondences show Lerner calling for the an audit in addition to a rejection of its application.

“I had a meeting today with an organization that was asking us to consider guidance on the c4 issue. To get ready for the meeting, I asked for every document that (sic) had sent in over the last several years because I knew they had sent in several referrals.  I reviewed the information last night and thought the allegations in the documents were really damning, so wondered why we hadn’t done something with the org,” Lerner wrote in an email. “The first complaint came in 2010 and there were additional ones in 2011 and 2012…The organization at issue is Crossroads GPS…I know the org is now in the ROO–based on allegations sent in this year, but this is an org that was a prime candidate for exam when the referrals and 990s first came in.”

Revenue agent Joseph Herr noted he needed to write up a summary of an “idea on how I plan to make denial argument and share with Sharon Light, the Special Advisor to EO Director in Washington DC, for her opinion on whether the idea seems valid.”

GOP lawmakers expressed their discontent over the closure of the investigation after the announcement was made.

“While predictable coming from this administration, this news is still deeply disappointing. Over the past several years, Ways and Means along with other congressional committees have conducted a thorough bipartisan investigation into the IRS’s targeting of organizations based on their political beliefs,” said Ways and Means Chairman [crscore]Paul Ryan[/crscore] in a statement. “Through these investigations we have uncovered serious and unprecedented actions taken by the most senior IRS official in charge of the non-profit unit, Lois Lerner, to deprive conservative organizations of their constitutional rights. The American people deserve better than this. Despite the DOJ closing its investigation, the Ways and Means Committee will continue to find answers and hold the IRS accountable for its actions.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman [crscore]Jason Chaffetz[/crscore] introduced a resolution Tuesday calling for the impeachment of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over accusations he hindered investigations into the scandal.

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