The IRS Tea Party Targeting Scandal May Have Just Gotten a Lot Worse

New documents show that ex-IRS official Lois Lerner inquired about the possibility of the Department 0f Justice taking action against organizations that “lied” about their political activity, adding yet another dimension to the agency’s targeting of conservative groups.

In this May 22, 2013 file photo, Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner refuses to answer questions as the House Oversight Committee holds a hearing to investigate the extra scrutiny the IRS gave Tea Party and other conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Lerner, then the head of the IRS’ tax-exempt organizations division, relayed a conversation she had with Richard Pilger, director of the Justice Department’s elections crimes branch, in an email to the chief of staff for then-acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller, according to documents obtained by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch through the Freedom of Information Act.

The discussion of prosecution was prompted by a request from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) during a Senate Judiciary Committee.

“He [Pilger] wanted to know who at IRS the DOJ folk s [sic] could talk to about Sen. Whitehouse idea at the hearing that DOJ could piece together false statement cases about applicants who ‘lied’ on their 1024s –saying they weren’t planning on doing political activity, and then turning around and making large visible political expenditures,” Lerner wrote to Nikole Flax on May 8, 2013. “DOJ is feeling like it needs to respond, but want to talk to the right folks at IRS to see whether there are impediments from our side and what, if any damage this might do to IRS programs.”

She added, “I told him that sounded like we might need several folks from IRS.”

Flax replied the next day: “I think we should do it – also need to include CI [Criminal Investigation Division], which we can help coordinate. Also, we need to reach out to [the Federal Election Commission]. Does it make sense to consider including them in this or keep it separate?”

Lerner contacted Senior Technical Advisor Nancy Marks about scheduling a meeting with IRS and DOJ officials, and opted to let the Justice Department decide whether to involve the FEC.

The matter remains under congressional investigation, while the Justice Department probe of the IRS tactics is being run by DOJ attorney and Obama donor Barbara Bosserman.

“Not only do these e-mails further prove the coordination among the IRS, the Federal Election Commission, the Justice Department and committee Democrats to target conservatives, they also show that had our committee not requested the Inspector General’s investigation when we did, Eric Holder’s politicized Justice Department would likely have been leveling trumped up criminal charges against Tea Party groups to intimidate them from exercising their Constitutional rights,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

It was on May 10, 2013, during a speech in front of the American Bar Association that Lerner first admitted to the improper targeting of conservative groups, which was done to pre-empt the damaging report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration on May 14.

The TIGTA report detailed the improper targeting, and the “Be on the Lookout” list, or BOLO, that called for singling out groups with “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their name.

In an email on the day of the admission, Lerner told an IRS staffer responding to a question from the Washington Post, she “can’t confirm that there was anyone on the other side of the political spectrum.” She later added, “The one with the names used were only know [sic] because they have been very loud in the press.”

Lerner retired from her post shortly after the scandal broke last year. Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into Lerner for allegedly misleading investigators, including the inspector general.

Lerner has refused to answer questions from Congress, invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but only after proclaiming her innocence.

“The release of new documents underscores the political nature of IRS Tea Party targeting and the extent to which supposed apolitical officials took direction from elected Democrats,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said. “These e-mails are part of an overwhelming body of evidence that political pressure from prominent Democrats led to the targeting of Americans for their political beliefs.”

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