In another briefing, she told committee staff that the information the IRS was requesting in follow-up letters to conservative groups, including in some cases a complete list of donors and their contributions, was not out of the ordinary. At a later briefing, an IRS official could not identify previous instances in the agency’s history in which the IRS asked groups for this information.
The report includes several emails from Lerner and her colleagues that shed light on her motives for applying stricter oversight to new 501(c)(4) organization applications.
The report highlights an email chain in September 2010 – a few months after the first Tea Party groups had been selected for extra scrutiny – in which Lerner wrote that the IRS should focus on these organizations because of concerns expressed by some media outlets that these nonprofit organizations were being created with the specific purpose to engage in politics.
“We need to have a plan,” she wrote. “We need to be cautious so it isn’t a per se political project. More of a c4 project that will look at levels of lobbying and pol. activity along with exempt activity.”
Lerner also said that she expected these political nonprofit groups to file a court case because they were “itching for a constitutional challenge.” In an email exchange about a Tea Party applicant, Lerner and her colleagues seemed to hope a lawsuit would lead the IRS to release information about this particular organization, despite rules protecting the secrecy of unapproved applications.
The emails paint a picture of IRS officials being aware of the potential political consequences of their actions and the increasing attention on the issue. On several occasions, Lerner received emails from colleagues that focused on the political involvement of tax-exempt conservative groups.
In March 2012, IRS Deputy Division Counsel Janine Cook sent an article to Lerner that discussed the potential congressional investigations and the IRS’s treatment of tax-exempt applicants. Lerner responded by writing: “we’re going to get creamed.”
The emails also show that Lerner was trying to figure out benefit issues in January 2013, including an estimate of the amount in benefits she would receive if she retired in October 2013. Lerner retired in September of that year.
The report mentions her use of a personal email address in violation of IRS policy and accuses her of disclosing confidential taxpayer information.
Lerner has refused to answer lawmakers’ questions twice, invoking her constitutional right not to self-incriminate. The report, however, asserts that Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights by reading a statement proclaiming her innocence at a hearing last year.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, is weighing whether the committee should vote on holding Lerner in contempt of Congress for providing false or misleading information.