Diary

TIGTA to IRS: You Got (More) Mail!

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) found even more missing emails from Lois Lerner among the recycled back-up tapes, which has provided now about 35,000 emails that were deemed lost and destroyed.

This new batch of roughly 6,400 emails is particularly interesting, because it spans 2004- 2013, so it covers the time frame both before and after Lerner’s hard drive crashed in 2011. About 650 emails appear to be from 2010-2011, which is the crucial time during which Lerner’s IRS targeted conservatives groups by denying or prolonging their 501c4 application process.

The bulk of the emails, however, are from 2012. 2012 was the presidential election year. However, by early 2012, we already know that Lerner was instructing her workers to be careful about what they put into writing.

An email written in February 2012 — which was released by Judicial Watch and not part of the newly found emails — reveals a conversation between Lois Lerner and Holly Paz, one of her employees who served as the former Director of the Office of Rulings and Agreements. Paz’s position as Director of the Office of Rulings and Agreements meant that she “oversaw the tax law specialists who provided guidance to the agents in Cincinnati reviewing “tea party” and other applicants, as well as the department involved with processing the applications.” In Lerner’s email to Paz, she discusses training her employees to be mindful of what they write down:

“We are all a bit concerned about the mention of specific Congress people, practitioners and political parties. Our filed folks are not as sensitive as we are to the fact that anything we write can be public–or at least be seen by Congress. We talked with Nan [Downing – Director of EO Examinations] and she thought it would be great if R & A [Rulings and Agreements] could put together some training points to help them understand the potential pitfalls…

I realize everyone is very busy, but I’d like you and Tom [Miller EO adviser] to get together to work out a reasonable plan for completing the review and reporting back on some of the issues he thinks we’d need to cover. If you need more info, we can talk. Thanks”

If Lerner was mindful by then of written records, what the new Lerner emails could reveal might depend on who they were going to. However, Lerner was apparently not entirely so concerned about covering up everything, because other separate FOIA records have revealed emails between Lerner’s office and other government groups and officials.

For instance that in 2012 and 2013, [mc_name name=’Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C000984′ ] and the IRS were in communication. In April 2014, it was reported that the “House Oversight Committee show staff working for Democratic Ranking Member [mc_name name=’Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C000984′ ] communicated with the IRS multiple times between 2012 and 2013 about voter fraud prevention group True the Vote. True the Vote was targeted by the IRS after applying for tax exempt status more than two years ago. Further, information shows the IRS and Cummings’ staff asked for nearly identical information from True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht about her organization, indicating coordination and improper sharing of confidential taxpayer information.”

What’s more, the same Holly Paz mentioned earlier colluded with Lerner to provide True the Vote’s 990’s to Cumming’s staff in early 2013: “On January 28, three days after staffers requested more information, Lerner wrote an email to her deputy Holly Paz, who has since been put on administrative leave, asking, “Did we find anything?” Paz responded immediately by saying information had not been found yet, to which Lerner replied, “Thanks, check tomorrow please.” The 990’s were sent three days later.

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Similarly, in 2013, it has been noted that Lerner was in communication with the Department of Justice regarding prosecuting tax exempt groups. A email obtained by a FOIA request, written by Lerner just two days before the IRS scandal broke in May 2013, stated,

“I got a call today from Richard Pilger Director Elections Crimes Branch at DOJ … He wanted to know who at IRS the DOJ folk s [sic] could talk to about [mc_name name=’Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’W000802′ ] idea at the hearing that DOJ could piece together false statement cases about applicants who “lied” on their 1024s –saying they weren’t planning on doing political activity, and then turning around and making large visible political expenditures. DOJ is feeling like it needs to respond, but want to talk to the right folks at IRS to see whether there are impediments from our side and what, if any damage this might do to IRS programs. I told him that sounded like we might need several folks from IRS,” Lerner wrote in a May 8, 2013 email to former Nikole C. Flax, who was former-Acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller’s chief of staff.

“I think we should do it – also need to include CI [Criminal Investigation Division], which we can help coordinate. Also, we need to reach out to FEC. Does it make sense to consider including them in this or keep it separate?” Flax responded on May 9, 2013.”

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Incidentally, that wouldn’t be the first time Lerner explored such a scenario with the DoJ, and Pilger in particular; she did so even way back in 2010. National Review reported last June that “The Internal Revenue Service may have been caught violating federal tax law. In October 2010, the agency sent a database on 501(c)(4) social-welfare groups containing confidential taxpayer information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to documents obtained by a House panel.

The information was transmitted in advance of former IRS official Lois Lerner’s meeting the same month with Justice Department officials about the possibility of using campaign-finance laws to prosecute certain nonprofit groups. E-mails between Lerner and Richard Pilger, the director of the Justice Department’s election-crimes branch, obtained through a subpoena to Attorney General Eric Holder, show Lerner asking about the format in which the FBI preferred the data to be sent”.

The Department of Justice never formally did anything to the social welfare groups, but it was shortly thereafter that targeting was begun by Lerner — not to current 501c4s, but new groups applying for status. “E-mails cited in a committee report released in March [2014] show that the [Citizen’s United] decision caused a lot of angst for Lerner and her colleagues in the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division, and she noted in public remarks that the agency was under pressure to “fix the problem” created by the decision.”

TIGTA is expected to release its report later this year on all the missing 35,000 emails, which will include this new-found batch. After TIGTA’s report comes out, a second report by a bipartisan Congressional committee will also be released, and the public will be able to see more clearly what Lerner was trying to hide when she discarded her computer hard drives.