Was Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS's Exempt Organizations Division lying when she denied knowing about the IRS policy of targeting 9/12 groups, local Tea Parties and other small government supporters? Lerner initially blamed it on the work of two "low-level" Cincinnati employees of the massive taxing agency. However, documents sent to TheBlaze and published by local media raise doubts about Lerner's version of events.
The IRS administrator, who one week ago was thrust into the spotlight for apologizing to conservative groups and others that were targeted by the Internal Revenue Service may have a big problem on her hands. That problem consists of two letters sent to Larry Nordvig, the head of the Richmond Tea Party, in March of 2012 and that appear to be signed by her.
The Richmond Times Dispatch published the letters, which also had attached to them the list of 50 intrusive questions from the taxing authority to the Tea Party. The first letter, dated March 4, 2012, lays out that the group has 90 days to respond to requests for additional information:
The wording in the March 16, 2012 letter says:
“As indicated in our previous letter, we were unable to make a final determination on your exempt status without additional information. Because you did not provide the additional information requested within the time period specified in our previous letter, your case was placed in suspense.”
(Note: The Richmond group told TheBlaze the lack of signature on the bottom of the letter above was a result of a scanning error -- it is there, it said, just not visible.)
Both letters seem to contradict Lerner's public declarations about the timing of her awareness of the targeting.
In a media conference call from last Friday afternoon, Lerner said she was made aware of the scrutiny by media reports about it. Granted, she does not specifically state the exact date when she learned about the scandal. However, TheBlaze first started covering the scandal in early February of 2012. A second story that featured the specific group that received two letters from the administrator was published on TheBlaze before the end of February. The story, and the complaints by conservatives, was out and in the media more than a month before Lerner wrote the first letter to the Richmond Tea Party.
So do the letters definitively show Lerner knew of the targeting? First, it's possible at the time Lerner didn't consider such questions "targeting" per se. Hindsight has made that much clearer. Second, does her signature on the letters mean she had personally reviewed the requests and signed off on the scrutiny?
To the latter point, TheBlaze editorial staff had a protracted discussion about the authenticity of the signature on these letters and what those signatures mean. First, without holding the letters in our hands, we cannot say for certain if the signatures are real as opposed to a stamp or auto-pen signature. Still, we did notice that if you closely examine one of the signatures received by the Richmond group with another sent to a Palm Beach organization that comes up using a simple Google search, you will see that they are slightly different. This could suggest that neither a stamp or auto-pen was used to affix Lois G. Lerner's signature to the documents.
Here's the signature from the Richmond letter.
Image: Richmond Tea Party
And this is the signature from the paperwork the IRS sent to the Palm Beach group.
Image: Royal Poinciana Playhouse
The subtle differences and obviously similarities point to the possibility these signatures belonging to the same person and not coming from a stamp or a machine. And if Lerner is personally signing letters, that would implicate a more detailed knowledge of the process.
Does that mean that she was part of pressing at least one Tea Party organization with the probing and overreaching questions that we know were sent to dozens (possibly hundreds) of "patriot" groups and had knowledge of it before the period she indicated? You examine the evidence.
National Review's Kevin Williamson examined other evidence and determined that Lerner is not as innocent as she may want people to think she is. In a piece titled "The Nine Lies of Lois Lerner," Williamson alleges that the entire apology last Friday was a plant, that Lerner knew the information was about to come out, and that she and others were well aware of the targeting:
Lie No. 3: This was the work of low-level grunts in Cincinnati. In truth, very senior people within the IRS, including its top lawyer, were aware of the situation, and had been since at least 2011. The home office in Washington was very much involved in the process.
Lie No. 4: Lerner says that the situation came to her attention through allegations from tea-party groups carried in media reports. In fact, the matter has been under both internal and external investigation for some time.
Lie No. 5: Lerner says she put an end to the practice as soon as she found out about it. In fact, the IRS continued to do precisely the same thing, only monkeying a little bit with the language: Instead of targeting “tea party” groups explicitly, it targeted those groups with an interest in such esoterica as limited government, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, etc.
Lie No. 6: She says that the commissioner of the IRS didn’t know about the targeting project. While the targeting was going on, Ms. Lerner’s boss was being asked some very pointed questions by Congress on the subject of targeting tea-party groups. He enthusiastically denied that any such thing was going on, in direct contravention of the facts. Ms. Lerner says he didn’t know about the situation, because it was confined to those aforementioned plebs in Cincinnati. But given that this was not the case, her explaining away the commissioner’s untrue statements to Congress is a lie based on another lie — a compound lie, if you will. And acting commissioner Steven Miller was briefed on the situation in May of 2012 — and then declined to share his knowledge of it with Congress when asked about it during a hearing in July.
Lie No. 7: Lerner says she came forward with her apology unprompted by any special consideration. In fact, an inspector general’s report was about to be released, making the matter public.
By the way, the Richmond Tea Party ended up getting its non-profit status approved last summer, but not until members submitted more than 500 documents in response to the IRS's list of questions.
(H/T - Doc Thompson - "The Morning Blaze" on TheBlaze Radio)
Follow Mike Opelka on Twitter @stuntbrain