Former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman is sworn in prior to testifying before the Senate Finance Committee on May 21. Shulman was at the helm of the IRS during most of the period agents were targeting conservative groups. (Getty Images)
The vice chairman of the Federal Election Commission said Monday he had seen undisclosed email exchanges between FEC employees and the Internal Revenue Service that show the two agencies may have worked together to target conservative groups.
Don McGahn’s admission would seem to confirm earlier reports that raised questions regarding a possible collusion between the two agencies.
An investigator with the FEC had contacted Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the targeting scandal, to discuss the status of the American Future Fund, a conservative political advocacy group, McGahn told CNN.
Shortly after Lerner was contacted, the IRS sent a questionnaire to the conservative group.
"Who's the dog and who's the tail (in this case)? Who knows," McGahn said. But "dealing with Lois Lerner is probably out of the ordinary."
Lerner worked for the FEC from 1986 to 1995 and was famous for her “aggressive” investigation of conservative groups.
The emails "could be benign (or) could be more sinister,” McGahn said, noting that the email exchanges are not a smoking gun.
Still, he continued, the emails call for further investigation.
Also, it's worth noting that FEC staffers were apparently never cleared to reach out to the IRS -- an apparent departure from FEC protocol, McGahn, a Republican, said.
Republican congressional investigators, including Congressman Darell Issa (R-Calif.), have made numerous and repeated requests for copies of the email exchanges.
FEC Democratic Chairwoman Ellen L. Weintraub said she is unfamiliar with any email exchanges between her agency and the IRS.
"If there was any evidence or targeting based on ideology, that would be extremely serious, but I have not seen any evidence of that,” she said.
"I am not aware of requesting or receiving any confidential taxpayer information. I am not aware of any requests for anything that wasn't publicly available,” she added.
Lois Lerner, who earlier this year invoked her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, had contacted an FEC attorney with questions involving conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, National Review Online reported last week.
The FEC attorney wrote in an email to Lerner in February 2009: “Several months ago . . . I spoke with you about the American Future Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization that had submitted an exemption application the IRS [sic].”
The FEC, the NRO report adds, is not exempted under Rule 6103, which prohibits the IRS from sharing sensitive taxpayer data. And based on the email exchanges, it looks like Lerner and an unnamed FEC attorney may have been trading confidential taxpayer information.
Here’s a troubling line from the FEC attorney: “When we spoke last July, you had told us that the American Future Fund had not received an exemption letter from the IRS.”
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 22: Internal Revenue Service Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner is sworn in before testifying to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee May 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee is investigating allegations that the IRS targeted conservative non-profit organizations with the words "tea party" and "constitution" in their names for additional scrutiny. Lerner, who headed the division that oversees exempt organizations, plans to assert her constitutional right not to answer questions. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Again, along with the IRS being prohibited from discussing or disclosing personal tax information, FEC staffers were supposedly never cleared to contact the IRS about these issues.
"Things seemed weird to me" McGahn told CNN. "The FEC has not had a good track record with calling balls and strikes. They've been criticized for not playing fair."
The emails create "the appearance that people are being selectively targeted. And that's something that should never happen," he added.
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