IRS to Provide Congress with All Lerner Emails Since Targeting Began
March 8, 2014 - 9:49 am
One imagines that the reason the IRS has changed its tune and will now supply all the emails Congress requested eight months ago is that they’ve had the opportunity to go through them and have found nothing incriminating.
But the value of of examining all of Lois Lerner’s emails during the months in question has to do with the two-track approach to the IRS investigation that Republicans have initiated.
The first track is an examination of the targeting scandal and all the related issues associated with IRS actions. The second, and equally important, track, is getting to the bottom of how the IRS came up with its new set of regulations that govern what “political activity” is legal for 501(C)(4) organizations.
The significance of the IRS relenting in giving Congress Lerner’s emails is that she was at the center of conversations at the agency regarding how these rules were developed — and why. Republicans want to know why political activities that were legal under the old rules have suddenly been declared illegal by the IRS.
The powerful House Ways and Means Committee will get everything from disgraced former IRS official Lois Lerner’s email account since a few weeks before Barack Obama became president.
And Republican committee members are hoping they’ll find a smoking gun tying the Obama administration to the years-long scheme to play political favorites with nonprofit groups’ tax-exemption applications.
After eight months of back-and-forth stonewalling, the IRS has agreed to turn over the complete contents of Lerner’s email account, along with other documents that two congressional committees have been demanding.
‘If there’s not a Holy Grail email in this round of documents,’ a senior staffer to a Ways and Means committee member told MailOnline, ‘then we’re not going to find it.’
‘Whether that’s because Lerner covered her tracks or because the IRS is shredding documents, we’re probably never going to know.’
More likely, Lerner was smart enough not to commit anything to writing — if, indeed, she is trying to hide something. A good investigator would be able to glean clues about missing emails from sometimes unrelated communications, so the IRS probably didn’t do much shredding.
The IRS has proposed a rewrite of its regulations governing communications restrictions on ‘public benefit’ organizations that are exempt from paying federal income taxes.
That redesign of the rules began long before Lerner herself exposed the IRS’s pattern of holding up right-wing groups’ applications, often with dozens of intrusive questions over several years.
The effects of the agency’s desired rule change would be substantial: Organizations would be prohibited from emailing information, or publishing anything online, about candidates’ voting records during the last 60 days before an election.
Tea party groups, which began their rise to prominence five years ago, comprised most of the organizations that the IRS targeted beginning in 2010. Their political free-speech concerns have driven more than 146,000 public comments to the IRS, demanding that the regulatory revisions be scrapped.
In practical terms, the proposed new rules are outrageously arbitrary and appear to be designed to inflict massive damage on the ability of conservatives to get their message out:
Cleta Mitchell, a board member of the American Conservative Union Foundation, said Friday during that organization’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference that the new rules would affect the event where she was speaking.
‘It would mean that in even-numbered years, CPAC could have no speakers who are candidates for office,’ she said, dumbfounded.
The few tantalizing clues to how these rules came about — a result of some emails ferreted out by Issa’s oversight committee — show that the Tea Party was uppermost in the minds of IRS personnel when developing the new regulations. It is hoped that this vast treasure trove of new evidence will shed light on the decision-making processes of the IRS and answer questions about where exactly the push to silence conservatives came from.