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IRS targeting allegations

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On May 10, 2013, news broke that various branches of the IRS had specifically targeted conservative groups' applications for tax-exempt status. It began during the tea party surge in 2010. The agency was separating tax-exempt applications by searching for political terms such as "tea party" and "patriot." In June 2011, an IRS official was briefed on these transgressions and asked that this practice end. The flagging continued, however, when the criteria was changed in January 2012 to look out for groups educating on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.[1]

The targeting included allegations that tea party groups were forced to provide information not asked of other tax exempt groups. Examples of this were requests for donor information, Facebook posts, resumes and political intentions of group officials and connections to other groups.[2][3]


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IRS targeting allegations
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Testifying on May 15, 2013, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder promised a criminal investigation spearheaded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and federal prosecutors into the Cincinnati office that has been blamed for the extra attention paid to conservative organizations, but he made it clear that the investigation would span more than just Cincinnati in order to find out where the "enforcement gaps" in the IRS's policies lie. Holder also added that groups paying for legal representation during the controversy would be reimbursed for legal costs.[4]

On May 16, 2013, IRS Commissioner Steven Miller announced his resignation. He still testified at the hearings the next day.[5] Lois Lerner, the head of the tax-exempt organizations division throughout the targeting scandal retired on September 23, 2013, when an IRS review board informed her she would be removed from her position due to "neglect of duties."[6]

Congressional investigation

In January 2014, the FBI announced no criminal charges would be filed over the IRS targeting scandal unless new evidence came to light.[7] On April 9, 2014, emails from Lerner, expressing her interest in denying the Crossroads GPS 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status, were released to the public, and a letter was sent by the House Ways and Means Committee urging prosecutors to hold Lerner accountable. Fourteen committee Democrats voted against sending the letter with Rep. Sandy Levin stating the intention of the letter was to "declare this a scandal and keep it going until November."[8]

Lerner in contempt

On May 7, 2014, the U.S. House voted to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress due to her refusal to answer questions during her hearing. The criminal contempt charge carries a jail sentence and fine, but the Justice Department must first decide whether or not to pursue the charge. If the department opts not to pursue the charge, the House can bring up a civil suit demanding Lerner to testify or face time in jail. Lerner would not necessarily be forced to testify if the criminal charge is pursued.[9]

Lost email communications

The House Ways and Means Committee announced on June 13, 2014, that emails from Lerner between January 2009 and April 2011 to those outside of the IRS were lost due to a computer crash. Koskinen promised all documentation from Lerner would be handed over for investigation, but it was revealed in a letter that emails from that period could not be found. Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) released a response, stating, "The Administration has repeatedly referred us back to the IRS for production of materials. It is clear that is wholly insufficient when it comes to determining the full scope of the violation of taxpayer rights." Chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee Charles Boustany Jr., (D-LA) questioned the administration's transparency claiming, "This is not the transparency promised to the American people. If there is no smidgeon of corruption what is the Administration hiding?"[10]

On June 13, 2014, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) requested the metadata records of the emails from Lerner from the National Security Agency. The metadata requested, collected by the NSA program Stellar Wind, would not provide the content of the emails from Lerner, but the information would provide where the emails were sent from and where they were delivered. A spokesperson from Stockman's office justified the request, saying, "If the government can collect data on American citizens without a warrant and use it in court or investigation, there is no immunity exempting government officials from having their data collected without a warrant and used in court or investigations."[11] By June 17, 2014, Republicans insisted that emails from an additional six people had been lost. John Koskinen was subpoenaed to testify before the multiple House committees again, only about the increasing number of lost emails over the highly-scrutinized period of time for the IRS.[12] During testimony on June 21, 2014, Koskinen claimed the IRS was following through with promises of transparency by providing all the emails to Congress, but stated, "I said I would provide all the e-mails — we are providing all the e-mails. I never said I would provide e-mails we didn't have." He also explained that following Lerner's hard drive problem, she brought in IRS IT experts in an attempt to recover the contents of the drive, but they were not able to salvage it.[13]

Texas-based non-profit organization True the Vote filed a suit against the IRS on June 30, 2014, to allow an independent forensics investigation into what happened with the hard drive. The case will be heard on July 11, 2014, by U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton. The attorneys for True the Vote argued, "If the IRS’s public statements about ‘recycling’ Ms. Lerner’s hard drive are true, that alone establishes spoliation of evidence that violates federal statutes and regulations, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and professional ethics and responsibility."[14]

On July 9, 2014, some emails from Lerner were released to the House Oversight Committee. At least one such email from April 2013, cautioned IRS employees about what they included in emails due to the congressional investigation. Lerner also inquired about the records of the IRS' instant messaging service, learning that the service did not automatically save conversations. Rep. Issa interpreted the conversations from Lerner to show that she was trying to cover her tracks, stating, "his is an ideologically driven administration that all of its tentacles are targeting against what they don’t like, and its scary."[15] The Justice Department announced on July 16, 2014, that they were investigating the lost emails in their investigation.[16]

IRS Deputy Associate Chief Counsel Thomas Kane, charged with providing requested IRS documents to Congress, claimed that the emails from Lerner's hard drive may not have been lost, stating, "There is an issue as to whether or not there is a — that all of the backup recovery tapes were destroyed on the 6-month retention schedule." He provided his testimony to the House Oversight Committee on July 21, 2014. He also provided names of more people whose hard drives crashed, causing them to lose their records, including three employees in the tax exempt division as well as an IRS agent based in Cincinnati.[17]

Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) renewed the push for the Justice Department to have an independent investigation conducted on the Lerner and the culture of the IRS when he claimed conservative non-profit groups were targeted by the agency. House Republicans released a series of emails between Lerner and a non-IRS individual using her official IRS email account. The exchange turned to discussing conservative talk radio hosts' discussing the downfall of the United States, to which Lerner commented, "Great. Maybe we are through if there are that many —-holes." She followed the comment claiming, "So we don’t need to worry about alien terrorists. It’s our own crazies that will take us down."[18] The email exchange was from a conversation on November 9, 2012, while Lerner was in England.[19]

Conservative group Judicial Watch, who filed suit against the IRS over the targeting allegations, claimed to have found that while the hard drive may have been destroyed, the government backed up all email communications. The problem was simply that the backed up files were too difficult to search. In a statement, the group stated, "This is a jaw-dropping revelation. The Obama administration had been lying to the American people about Lois Lerner’s missing emails." The group further explained, "All the focus on missing hard drives has been a diversion. The Obama administration has known all along where the email records could be — but dishonestly withheld this information. You can bet we are going to ask the court for immediate assistance in cutting through this massive obstruction of justice." An IRS official, however, refuted the claims, arguing, "There is no newly divulged back-up system that was not previously known about,” the official said. “Government lawyers were simply referring to the back-up system at the IRS that Commissioner Koskinen had already disclosed."[20]

Emails recovered

The lost Lois Lerner emails were reportedly recovered by the Treasury Department's Inspector General for Tax Administration on November 23, 2014. The emails were found on disaster recovery tapes. A report was being formed with the results to be released at a later date.[21]

FBI documents

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee received information from the Justice Department that the IRS provided the FBI with a 1.1 million page database of information on tax-exempt organizations. The files, announced by the committee on June 9, 2014, were to be used by the FBI to investigate the political activity of the tax-exempt organizations. In a letter to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) wrote, "We were extremely troubled by this new information, and by the fact that the IRS has withheld it from the committee for over a year. We were astonished to learn days ago from the Justice Department that these 21 disks contained confidential taxpayer information protected by federal law." The IRS claimed most of the information was publicly available with the exception of 33 organizations for which it accidentally released non-public information to the FBI. Republican representatives are looking into whether any wrongdoing occurred.[22]

Issa collusion claims

Rep. Issa publicly accused the Justice Department and the Democratic members of the congressional committee of trying to "prejudice the committee’s work through under-the-table coordination," on September 9, 2014. Issa claimed a Justice Department staffer called who he thought was Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) but mistakenly contacted Issa's office. When Issa's staffer answered, the DOJ caller asked for certain documents so the department could leak them to the press and the press could comment "before the majority." When Issa's staffer raised suspicion, the DOJ caller went on hold. When he came back on the line, he canceled the order for the documents. Issa wrote the account in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder stated, "This highly partisan and combative approach to oversight by the department shows a disregard for the independent investigatory prerogatives of Congress and a deliberate attempt to influence the course of a congressional investigation."[23]

Department of Justice investigation

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation was initiated in May 2013 after the IRS publicly announced its targeting of conservative organizations. Attorney General Eric Holder said of the IRS' actions, "Those (actions) were, I think, as everyone can agree, if not criminal, they were certainly outrageous and unacceptable. But we are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations." As of December 2013, the application delays for tax-exempt status were delayed an average of 574 days, though to that point, none of the applications had been denied. A Treasury Department investigation conducted by the inspector general claimed the investigations were conducted in the Cincinnati office of the IRS, but the supervisors in Washington, D.C. did not properly oversee what was happening.[24]

On January 9, 2014, Reps. Issa and Jim Jordan (R-OH) wrote about their concern of an Obama campaign donor being chosen to lead the Justice Department's investigation. Barbara Bosserman, a DOJ trial attorney, donated $6,750 to the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee between 2004 and 2012. The letter, written to Holder, insisted that her involvement was "highly inappropriate and has compromised the administration’s investigation of the IRS." A DOJ spokesperson responded to the request, stating, "It is contrary to department policy and a prohibited personnel practice under federal law to consider the political affiliation of career employees or other non-merit factors in making personnel decisions."[25]

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) wrote a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on July 10, 2014, asking that he "investigate the actions taken to date." Worried that the investigation was not being taken seriously by the department, Wolf explained, "More than one year later, there are no indications that a serious investigation is underway."[26] On July 16, 2014, the department announced that their investigation included discovering the truth behind the missing emails of Lerner and other IRS officials from the time period in question.[16]

Criticisms of the ongoing investigations

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen spoke out on July 31, 2014, claiming that congressional Republicans just want to keep the story in the news cycle. Koskinen defended his argument, stating, "There are some people who don't want a straight story. They don't want this to end." He had more to say about congressmen wanting to stay in the news, claiming, "The committee is very quick and they'll go to something else. They won't concede error. They'll say it was worth pursuing. Whether it was worth making a federal case out of it or not is another issue." Finally, Koskinen cautioned the Republicans calling for the Justice Department to appoint an independent investigator, suggesting, "I'm not sure if people really want a special prosecutor, because that would shut everything down. The special prosecutor then would have sole domain over this and so you wouldn't be holding all these fun hearings every week or two."[27]

Investigation outcomes

Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

The Democratic-majority subcommittee reported that no bias was found on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service. The report noted, "A review of nearly 800,000 pages of documents and nearly two dozen interviews produced no evidence of political bias influencing IRS decision-making about how to process [nonprofit] applications filed by conservative organizations, and no evidence that the IRS singled out conservative groups for harsher treatment than other groups." The head of the conservative non-profit True the Vote claimed, in response, "This report’s primary author has zero credibility," because the committee's chairman, Carl Levin (D-MI), did not appear to involve the alleged victims of the IRS' scrutiny during the investigation, and he originally called for more scrutiny on conservative organizations.[28]

The subcommittee's investigation was the first of four congressional investigations to complete. There was also an FBI investigation ongoing.[28]


Congressional lack of support

In July 2014, the Senate planned on tightening tax loopholes and allowing the IRS more resources for finding those who owe back taxes and misrepresented their mortgage payments, but Republican members of the House were not expected to show support for the bill due to what they believe was an abuse of power in the IRS targeting allegations. Prior to the allegations, Republicans often supported the closing of tax shelter loopholes. Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) claimed, "There’s not a whole lot of confidence right now about what the Internal Revenue Service does among the American people, let alone members of Congress. Why should we give them more tools to harass taxpayers?"[29]

Recent news

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See also

External links


  1. USA Today, "IRS knew of Tea Party profiling in 2011, report shows," accessed May 16, 2013
  2. Politico, "The IRS wants YOU- to share everything," accessed May 16, 2013
  3. Washington Post, "IRS officials in Washington were involved in targeting of conservative groups," accessed May 16, 2013
  4. Los Angeles Times, "Holder pledges to probe IRS handling of conservative groups," May 15, 2013
  5. CNN, "'Angry' Obama announces IRS leader's ouster after conservatives targeted," accessed May 16, 2013
  6. Wall Street Journal, "Lois Lerner, at Center of IRS Investigation, Retires," September 23, 2013
  7. Reuters, "FBI doesn't plan charges over IRS scrutiny of Tea Party: WSJ," January 13, 2014
  8. Time, "Emails Point to IRS Official’s Role in Targeting Conservative Groups," April 9, 2014
  9. Politico, "Republicans dare White House to ignore Lerner contempt," May 7, 2014
  10. Ways and Means Committee, "IRS Claims to Have Lost Over 2 Years of Lerner Emails," June 13, 2014
  11. The Hill, "Conservatives turn to NSA for help getting White House records," June 17, 2014
  12. Politico, "GOP: IRS lost more emails in tea party affair," June, 18, 2014
  13. The Washington Post, "IRS chief denies tipping off White House about missing e-mails," June 24, 2014
  14. The Washington Examiner, "Another federal judge tells IRS to explain itself on lost emails," July 1, 2014
  15. Politico, "Darrell Issa: Lois Lerner’s ‘smoking gun’ email," July 10, 2014
  16. 16.0 16.1 Politico, "Justice IRS probe also includes Lois Lerner emails," July 16, 2014
  17. Washington Examiner, "IRS official: Lost Lois Lerner emails may still exist," July 21, 2014
  18. Politico, "Lois Lerner email: Some in GOP 'crazies'," July 30, 2014
  19. Daily Mail, "Emails reveal IRS official Lois Lerner called conservatives 'crazies' and 'a**holes' as Eric Holder comes under new pressure to investigate," July 30, 2014
  20. The Hill, "Judicial Watch: Lerner emails aren't missing," August 25, 2014
  21. Politico, "Thousands of lost Lois Lerner IRS emails found by IG," November 23, 2014
  22. Wall Street Journal, "IRS Sent FBI Database on Nonprofit Groups in 2010, GOP Lawmakers Say," June 9, 2014
  23. The Hill, "Issa: Holder aide caught red-handed," September 9, 2014
  24. Associated Press, "Justice investigating IRS targeting of Tea Party," May 13, 2014
  25. The Washington Post, "Obama donor leading Justice Department’s IRS investigation," January 9, 2014
  26. Washington Examiner, "Republicans want this man to investigate IRS targeting of conservative groups," July 10, 2014
  27. The Hill, "IRS chief: Republicans 'don't want this to end'," July 31, 2014
  28. 28.0 28.1 Washington Times, "Senate investigators find no IRS bias against conservatives," September 7, 2014
  29. Politico, "Empower the IRS? Not on GOP’s watch," July 27, 2014