Newly-released emails between disgraced Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner and her staff may contradict earlier claims that the agency’s harsh treatment of conservative groups was not politically motivated.
One email shows Lerner, then the director of the tax-exempt organizations division, advising her staff in February 2011 that a Tea Party matter is “very dangerous,” and is something "Counsel and [Lerner adviser] Judy Kindell need to be in on."
The February email, uncovered by the House Ways and Means Committee, adds: "Cincy should probably NOT have these cases."
Lerner’s staff at the time included then-Exempt Organizations Technical Manager Michael Seto and then-Rulings and Agreements director Holly Paz, who was fired from the agency earlier this year.
IRS lawyer Carter Hull testified about his role in the agency’s targeting earlier this summer. His involvement in overseeing Tea Party cases began in 2010.
The cases are "being supervised by Chip Hull at each step," Paz wrote to Lerner in a February 2011 email. "He reviews info from TPs, correspondence to TPs etc. No decisions are going out of Cincy until we go all the way through the process with the c3 and c4 cases here.”
The emails also reveal that IRS officials were starting to worry about the role outside money would play in elections.
In an email dated July 10, 2012, then-Lerner adviser Sharon Light sent Lerner an NPR story on how “outside money was making it hard for Democrats to hold their Senate majority,” The Wall Street Journal notes.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee complained that conservative groups such as Crossroads GPS should be treated as non-tax exempt political committees.
"Perhaps the FEC will save the day," Lerner, herself a former FEC official, responded.
The emails raise serious questions about Lerner’s political motivations and what she knew about the political targeting.
Lerner herself claimed earlier this year that she was unaware of the targeting until she read about it in the news.
"So it was pretty much we started seeing information in the press that raised questions for us, and we went back and took a look," she said in May.
The emails also raise questions about former IRS Commissioner Steven Miller’s claims that the targeting wasn’t politically motivated and that it was simply the result of a few overeager low-level employees in Cincinnati.
Lerner has since invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.
Questions about what she knew, why she was using her personal email account to conduct official business and her eyebrow-raising correspondences with FEC officials remain unanswered.
As of this writing, Lois Lerner has entered into her fourth month of paid leave.
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