Justice: IRS official Lois Lerner didn’t merely target conservative groups to take away their tax-free status, as first suspected, but also handed over more than a million pages of tax returns to the Justice Department. That’s a crime.
It’s now apparent, if it wasn’t before, that the Internal Revenue Service — which was created solely to collect revenues due the government, not to persecute the administration’s political enemies — has become a kind of rogue agency.
Its chief, John Koskinen, is being threatened with impeachment for not telling the truth in testimony before Congress. But Lerner, more than even Koskinen, has become a symbol of IRS arrogance and illegality.
As Eliana Johnson of the National Review reported this week, Lerner transmitted some 1.25 million pages of tax returns of mostly Tea Party and conservative groups to the Justice Department in October 2010. In Johnson’s words, this was “likely the largest unauthorized disclosure of tax-return information in history.”
For some perspective, this took place at the start of a three-year period during which the same groups found their applications for tax-free status inexplicably held up, while those for liberal groups were more or less routinely rubber-stamped.
But the actual transmission of their tax returns as part of a fishing expedition by Lerner is the big problem here — because she also transmitted IRS Schedule B data, which includes the names and addresses of contributors to those conservative groups. That’s a big no-no.
Unfortunately for Lerner, tax returns are nearly sacrosanct under the law. Only an active investigation into criminal acts would allow the IRS to give the tax returns to the Justice Department. And then, by law, Justice would have to specifically request them. They didn’t in this case.
By the way, a good-government group called the Cause of Action Institute has been dredging all this information up as part of its ongoing litigation in the case. We wish them luck.
“The IRS, in the midst of its political targeting of groups engaged in policy advocacy, was engaging in the disclosure of millions of records aimed at ginning up prosecutions of these groups without going through the legally required channels,” Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, told the National Review.
So it looks like Lerner broke the law — again. But will she be punished? Not likely.
President Obama’s Justice Department already passed on prosecuting Lerner in 2015, despite strong evidence of criminal wrongdoing. IRS chief Koskinen, who is less guilty and less implicated than Lerner in all of this IRS skulduggery, is more likely to be impeached than Lerner is to be brought before a judge.
Loretta Lynch’s Justice Department, it seems, is just as politicized these days as the IRS.