Reports, emails surface implicating Justice Department in IRS scandal

Emails between former IRS supervisor Lois Lerner and Eric Holder’s Department of Justice show the two discussed lodging criminal charges against conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

So much for President Obama’s January assertion to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that there wasn’t “a smidgen” of evidence of corruption in the evolving scandal.

The emails, uncovered by Judicial Watch, show how interested the Justice Department was in pursuing criminal sanctions against organizations suspected of lying on their applications about future political activity, Townhall’s Katie Pavlich told Fox News host Megyn Kelly on Wednesday.

The idea appears to have been hatched by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who, one month before the scandal hit, “asked DOJ and IRS witnesses why they weren’t pursuing or looking into possible criminal prosecutions for tax-exempt groups,” Pavlich told Kelly.

“Officials at DOJ ran with it,” prompting the string of emails between Lerner and the Justice Department, Pavlich said.

Fox News reported:

The emails, obtained by Judicial Watch and first reported by TownHall.com, are another indication the targeting may have stretched deeper into the Obama administration. Lerner, the director of the agency’s Exempt Organizations division before retiring last year, initially said the targeting was limited to agents working in the IRS’ Cincinnati field office.

However, a series of inspector general and congressional probes since the scandal broke last year appear to show the targeting of mostly conservative-leaning groups seeking tax-exempt status was orchestrated in Washington.

In a May 2013 email, Lerner responded to a Justice Department inquiry about whether tax-exempt groups could be criminally prosecuted for lying about political activity.

“I got a call today from Richard Pilger Director Elections Crimes Branch at DOJ,” Lerner reportedly wrote to the office of Steven Miller, the agency’s acting director at the time. “He wanted to know who at IRS the DOJ folk s [sic] could talk to about Sen. Whitehouse 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.”

Nikole C. Flax, Miller’s chief of staff, responded: “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?” 

House Republicans claimed after the emails were published that they were further proof of coordination among various agencies to target conservatives. 

“The release of new documents underscores the political nature of IRS Tea Party targeting and the extent to which supposed apolitical officials took direction from elected Democrats,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a statement.  “These e-mails are part of an overwhelming body of evidence that political pressure from prominent Democrats led to the targeting of Americans for their political beliefs.”

Pavlich noted that the same Justice Department “that is supposed to be investigating the scandal is now implicated in the scandal.”

The interplay among agencies wasn’t lost on House Republicans.

“Now I see why the IRS is scared to give up the rest of Lois Lerner’s emails,” said Oversight Economic Growth subcommittee chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, according to The Daily Caller. “Not only do these e-mails further prove the coordination among the IRS, the Federal Election Commission, the Justice Department and committee Democrats to target conservatives, they also show that had our committee not requested the Inspector General’s investigation when we did, Eric Holder’s politicized Justice Department would likely have been leveling trumped up criminal charges against Tea Party groups to intimidate them from exercising their Constitutional rights.”

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