E-mails Show Lerner Had Direct Knowledge of IRS Tax-Exempt Screening

The investigation into the additional scrutiny by the IRS of Tea Party applications for tax-exempt status continues to show it was not the work of a few rogue agents in a local office but rather high-ranking IRS leaders in Washington.

E-mails released this week by the House Ways and Means Committee include ones from Lois Lerner, the former Director of IRS Exempt Organizations.  In at least one of the e-mails, Lerner indicates the “Tea Party Matter [was] very dangerous” as it could lead a court to review campaign spending limits.  Lerner also stated in the e-mail that the Cincinnati office should not be reviewing the Tea Party applications.

In another e-mail from Holly Paz, the former Director of IRS Rulings and Agreements, to Lerner, Paz indicated agents in the Cincinnati office were not making decisions concerning the Tea Party tax-exempt applications without direction for IRS leaders in Washington.  Lerner replied to Paz with direction on the matter.

When news first broke that conservative organizations with the words “Tea Party” and other key words in their names were undergoing additional scrutiny of their tax-exempt applications, IRS officials in Washington blamed the actions on rogue agents in the Cincinnati field office and claimed that IRS leaders in Washington, including Lerner, were unaware of those actions.

“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,” said Lerner in May when the scandal first surfaced in the media.

However, in the months since the scandal broke, evidence has continued to mount that IRS leaders in Washington not only knew about the additional illegal scrutiny by the IRS against Tea Party organizations but was in fact directly leading the reviews.

“There is increasing and overwhelming evidence that Lois Lerner and high-level IRS employees in Washington were abusing their power to prevent conservative groups from organizing and carrying out their missions,” noted Dave Camp, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  “It is clear the IRS is out of control and there will be consequences.”

Camp indicated there was still a significant amount of evidence to be reviewed.

Although the e-mails raise additional questions for Lerner, to date she has refused to testify before Congress on the matter, citing her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.  Other IRS officials have claimed the additional screening of certain organizations was not based on political motivations, although evidence continues to surface that the keywords used in the targeting included only those commonly used by conservative organizations.

Danny Werfel, Acting Commissioner of the IRS, indicated this week that his organization would not comment on specific actions of individuals employed by the organization but that the IRS “made a commitment to transparency and getting the facts out to Congress as well as fixing the underlying mismanagement in the IRS tax-exempt area.”

Werfel indicated the IRS would take action to corrective the matter while Congress continued its investigation.  However, despite the IRS’ commitment to resolving the matter, Tea Party organizations are continuing to note delays by the IRS in their applications, with reports surfacing of such delays as recently as July.

by Mark Johnston

Mark has been a contributor to legal web sites related to bankruptcy, tax, and criminal law since 2011. He has an Accounting degree from Texas A&M University.