The IRS’ official story since May 10 has been that a couple of rogue employees in its Cincinnati office abused the Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status on their own. IRS tax-exempt office official Lois Lerner claimed that she learned of the targeting by reading about it in the newspaper.
A new story in the Wall Street Journal suggests that Lerner knew about the targeting much earlier than she has let on. She also took control of at least one case away from Cincinnati and ran it from Washington. The story is based on emails that Lerner sent and received, which have been discovered and released by the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee.
In a February 2011 email, Ms. Lerner advised her staff—including then Exempt Organizations Technical Manager Michael Seto and then Rulings and Agreements director Holly Paz—that a Tea Party matter is “very dangerous,” and is something “Counsel and [Lerner adviser] Judy Kindell need to be in on.” Ms. Lerner adds, “Cincy should probably NOT have these cases.”
The emails also show partisanship among Lerner and her lieutenants.
The emails also put the targeting in the context of the media and Congressional drumbeat over the impact of conservative campaign spending on the 2012 elections. On July 10, 2012 then Lerner-adviser Sharon Light emailed Ms. Lerner a National Public Radio story on how outside money was making it hard for Democrats to hold their Senate majority.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had complained to the Federal Election Commission that conservative groups like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity should be treated as political committees, rather than 501(c)(4)s, which are tax-exempt social welfare groups that do not have to disclose their donors.
“Perhaps the FEC will save the day,” Ms. Lerner wrote back later that morning.
Lerner worked at the FEC before moving to the IRS. While at the FEC, she became known for targeting conservative Christian political groups. She also allegedly harassed Republican Al Salvi when he ran for Senate in Illinois.
Lois Lerner pled the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in May of this year, in connection with the ongoing IRS investigation.