Lois Lerner, a former top official at the IRS, and her former deputy have asked a federal court to keep their testimonies in the Tea Party targeting scandal private forever, citing risk of physical harm to them or their families if the testimony is made public.
Lerner and her deputy, Holly Paz, filed a motion in federal court last Thursday asking the testimony — which includes documents and tape-recorded depositions — to be sealed forever, according to the Washington Times.
Lerner and Paz were the central figures in a 2013 scandal and investigation during the Obama administration after it was revealed the IRS’ Exempt Organizations unit — which Lerner led — was denying or delaying Tea Party organizations tax-exempt status because of political ideology.
The groups later filed a class-action lawsuit demanding answers and compensation for being unfairly targeted. The lawsuit remained in litigation during Obama's administration, but was recently settled by the Trump administration. The targeted groups received settlements and an apology from the IRS.
The settlement also revealed that Lerner did not stop the targeting when she learned of it, but instead, she hid it from her superiors. The Obama administration previously maintained that Lerner tried to stop the targeting when she became aware of it.
What did the women argue?
According to the Times, attorneys for the women say that because the lawsuit has now been settled, there is no reason for their testimony to be made public.
"The voluminous record of harassment and physical threats to Mss. Lerner and Paz and their families during the pendency of this litigation provides a compelling reason to seal the materials," they argued.
Fox News reported that the lawyers also argued:
Whenever Mss. Lerner and Paz have been in the media spotlight, they have faced death threats and harassment. Returning Mss. Lerner and Paz to the media spotlight places them at risk, regardless of what they actually said in those depositions.
The documents also stated that: “Public exposure will put innocent bystanders, namely Mss. Lerner’s and Paz’s family members (including young children), at risk, too.
The request cites the words of Tea Party leader Mark Meckler, who once called the IRS officials "criminal thugs." Those words, Lerner and Paz argued, have "created a fertile environment where threats and harassment against Ms. Lerner and Paz have flourished."
What will the judge do?
It really isn't clear. During the lawsuit's proceedings, the presiding judge, Michael Barrett, allowed the testimony to be kept under seal at Lerner's and Paz's request. However, the Trump administration has said they believe the testimony should be made public.
It's not clear when Barrett will make a final decision about the sealed documents.