In May 2013, it was learned that from April 2010 to April 2012, the Internal Revenue Service had placed on hold the processing of applications for tax-exempt status that it had received from hundreds of organizations with such presumably conservative indicators as “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” or “9/12” in their names. During that period, the IRS approved only four applications from conservative groups while green-lighting applications from several dozen organizations whose names included the likely left-leaning terms “Progressive,” “Progress,” “Liberal,” or “Equality.”
In February 2014, it was further learned that of the already-existing nonprofits that were flagged for IRS surveillance (including monitoring of the groups’ activities, websites, and any other publicly available information), 83% were conservative. And, of the groups that the IRS selected for audit, 100% were conservative.
This section of Discover The Networks provides a timeline of this illegal, blatantly partisan practice by the IRS during the Obama Administration.
February to March 2010: An email string from February – March 2010includes a message from a California Exempt Organizations Determinations manager discussing a Tea Party application “currently being held in the Screening group.” The manager urges, “Please let ‘Washington’ know about this potentially embarrassing political case involving a ‘Tea Party’ organization. Recent media attention to this type of organization indicates to me that this is a ‘high profile’ case.” A co-worker responds: “I think sending it up here [DC] is a good idea given the potential for media interest.” (Source)
March 31 to April 1, 2010: Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU)—the 150,000-member union that represents employees of the IRS and 30 other government agencies—visits President Obama at the White House. NTEU’s Political Action Committee endorsed Obama in both 2008 and 2012, and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles to anti-Tea Party candidates. (Source)
The day after Colleen Kelley’s White House visit, IRS employees begin applying extra scrutiny to tax-exempt-status applications from conservative organizations whose names contain the words “Tea Party,” “Patriot,” “9-12,” “’Take Back the Country,” or “We the People.” (Source and Source)
July 6, 2010: IRS official Holly Paz writes an email to Washington-based IRS lawyer Steven Grodnitzky “to let Cindy and Sharon know how we have been handling Tea Party applications in the last few months.” Grodnitzky replies to the email, confirming that the Washington-based Exempt Organization Technical unit (EOT) is designing the targeting in the nation’s capital.
“EOT is working the Tea party applications in coordination with Cincy. We are developing a few applications here in DC and providing copies of our development letters with the agent to use as examples in the development of their cases,” Grodnitzky writes.
“Chip Hull [another lawyer in IRS headquarters] is working these cases in EOT and working with the agent in Cincy, so any communication should include him as well. Because the Tea party applications are the subject of an SCR [Sensitive Case Report], we cannot resolve any of the cases without coordinating with Rob,” Grodnitzky writes. [“Rob” is believed to be then-IRS director of rulings and agreements Rob Choi, based at the agency’s Washington headquarters.]
August 2010: The IRS issues its first “BOLO” (“Be On The Lookout”) alert for “various local organizations in the Tea Party movement” that are seeking tax-exempt status as 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) groups. The IRS is also flagging applications by organizations that: (a) address such issues as government spending, government debt, and taxes; (b) promote the use of education, advocacy, and lobbying to “make America a better place to live”; or (c) criticize how the country is being run by the Obama administration. (Sourceand Source)
October 2010: In a meeting arranged at the direction of Jack Smith, chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, the DOJ asks IRS official Lois Lerner to help the Department build criminal cases against conservative nonprofit groups that have been conducting political activity. (Source)
Winter 2010-2011: Judith Kindell, senior advisor to IRS Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner, tells IRS attorney Carter Hull, who oversaw the review of some tax-exemption applications by conservative Tea Party groups, that the IRS Chief Counsel’s office — headed by Obama appointee William Wilkins — will henceforth need to review all applications from conservative groups whose names contain the aforementioned trigger words. According to Hull, this is the first time in his 48-year career at the IRS that he has been instructed to forward any tax-exemption applications to another office. (Source and Source)
February 2011: In an email, IRS Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner Lerner advises her staff—including then Exempt Organizations Technical Manager Michael Seto and then Rulings and Agreements director Holly Paz—that a Tea Party matter is “very dangerous,” and that this is something “Counsel and [Lerner adviser] Judy Kindell need to be in on.” Lerner adds that Tea Party groups’ tax-exemption applications could end up being the “vehicle to go to court” to get more clarity on a 2010 Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance rules. Thus, at this point, Lerner—contrary to false statements she will subsequently make—is well aware of the fact that groups with “Tea Party,” “Patriot,” or “9/12 Project” in their names are being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny by the IRS. (Source and Source)
February 2011: In an email to Lois Lerner, a Federal Election Commission (FEC) investigator inquires about the status of the tax-exemption application of the American Future Fund, a conservative group. (The FEC and IRS have no authority to share this information under section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code.) Soon after this FEC inquiry, the American Future Fund receives a questionnaire from the IRS. (Source)
June 3, 2011: David Camp, Republican Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, sends a letter to then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman inquiring about a report that the IRS has been conducting an unusually large number of audits of conservative 501(c)(4) groups and taxpayers who have donated money to them. Lawmakers will subsequently send at least seven more letters asking the IRS to address complaints that conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status are being subjected to burdensome screening. (Source and Source)
June 13, 2011: Lois Lerner’s computer allegedly crashes, causing all emails that Lerner sent and received between January 2009 and April 2011, to be lost. (Source)
July 1, 2011: The IRS responds to David Camp’s June 3 letter by stating that its “actions in this area were in no way influenced by political considerations.” According to the Agency, Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner has ordered the criteria for flagging tax-exempt applications for extra scrutiny to be changed, so as to apply more broadly to “organizations involved with political, lobbying, or advocacy for exemption under 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4).” (Source)
August 4, 2011: Staffers in the IRS’s Rulings and Agreements office hold a meeting with the Chief Counsel’s office which is headed by William Wilkins. At this meeting, Wilkins is made aware that conservative groups are being targeted by the IRS. Appointed by President Obama in 2009, Wilkins is one of only two presidential appointees in the entire agency. In subsequent interviews, IRS lawyer Carter Hull, who oversaw the review of some tax-exemption applications by conservative Tea Party groups, tells congressional investigators that his superiors have told him that Wilkins’ office needs to be involved in additional reviews of previously screened tax-exemption applications because of “potential political activity.” (Source and Source)
September 8, 2011: The IRS abruptly cancels its longtime (2005-11) relationship with Sonasoft, a San Jose-based email-archiving company and email-storage contractor specializing in quickly and thoroughly saving its clients’ emails after computer crashes. (Source)
Note: Federal law (the Federal Records Act) requires the IRS to keep records of all agency emails and to print out hard copies of those correspondences to ensure that they get saved in the event of a computer mishap. An instructional page for employees on the IRS website states:
“The Federal Records Act applies to email records just as it does to records you create using other media. Emails are records when they are: Created or received in the transaction of agency business; Appropriate for preservation as evidence of the government’s function and activities; or Valuable because of the information they contain.
“If you create or receive email messages during the course of your daily work, you are responsible for ensuring that you manage them properly. The Treasury Department’s current email policy requires emails and attachments that meet the definition of a federal record be added to the organization’s files by printing them (including the essential transmission data) and filing them with related paper records. If transmission and receipt data are not printed by the email system, annotate the paper copy.
“Please note that maintaining a copy of an email or its attachments within the IRS email MS Outlook application does not meet the requirements of maintaining an official record. Therefore, print and file email and its attachments if they are either permanent records or if they relate to a specific case.”(Source)
September 2011 to June 2012: As the IRS cancels its relationship with Sonasoft, the agency is also in the midst of “retiring” and throwing away numerous sophisticated data-storage devices in the IRS’s national IT offices in Maryland — even though the IRS is still paying maintenance fees ($6,692 per month) on the devices. (Source)
October 6, 2011: Charles Boustany, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, sends a letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman requesting information about the agency’s dealings with the tax-exempt sector. (Source)
November 18, 2011: The IRS responds to Chairman Boustany by providing some of the information he requested, but makes no mention of any knowledge that conservative groups are being targeted. (Source)
December 16, 2011: House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee members meet with Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner and other IRS staff. Neither Lerner nor her colleagues mention that their agency has targeted conservative groups. (Source and Source)
January 2012: The IRS begins sending follow-up letters requesting that conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status provide voluminous and sensitive information, such as the names of all donors and the amounts of all their donations; a list of all issues important to the groups; an explanation of where the groups stand on those issues; and all emails sent to members of the groups. (Source)
February 22, 2012: Lois Lerner sends an email to an IRS information technology specialist, with the message line: “Virus on Home PC.” In the exchange, Lerner indicates that she keeps work information on her home computer, and that some of it may have been lost. That computer, says Lerner, may have been “simply hacked because my password was too simple.” (Source) [This information was made public on July 30, 2014, when House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Michigan Republican) turned it over to the Justice Department in support of an investigation into criminal wrongdoing at the IRS.]
February 24, 2012: During a briefing on the onerous follow-up letters received by some conservative organizations, Oversight and Government Reform Committee staffers ask IRS Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner whether the criteria for evaluating tax-exempt applications have changed at any point. Lerner replies that the criteria have not changed. (Source)
February 29, 2012: The IRS issues a 60-day extension (for compliance) to all groups that have received follow-up letters, and Lerner orders that no additional developmental letters be sent. (Source)
March 1, 2012: Charles Boustany, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, sends a follow-up letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman with additional queries about reports that “the IRS has been questioning new tax-exempt applicants, including grassroots political entities such as Tea Party groups.” (Source)
March 1, 2012 – Top IRS officials meet to discuss media reports that conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status are being harassed/targeted. (Source)
March 12, 2012: The IRS responds to Boustany’s letter with no mention of any knowledge that conservative groups are being targeted. (Source)
March 12, 2012: Democratic Senators Charles Schumer, Michael Bennet, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jeff Merkley, Tom Udall, Jeanne Shaheen, and Al Franken write a letter calling on the IRS to scrutinize conservative groups allegedly masquerading as 501(c)(4) “social welfare organizations.” A press release from Senator Schumer’s office, asserting that “the lack of clarity in the IRS rules has allowed political groups to improperly claim 501(c)4 status and may even be allowing donors to these groups to wrongly claim tax deductions for their contributions,” summarizes the terms of the letter:
“We urge the IRS to take these steps immediately to prevent abuse of the tax code by political groups focused on federal election activities. But if the IRS is unable to issue administrative guidance in this area then we plan to introduce legislation to accomplish these important changes.” (Source)
March 22, 2012: The House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee holds its regularly scheduled 2012 hearing on the tax-return filing season and general IRS operations. Chairman Charles Boustany asks then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman about reports that the IRS has been targeting Tea Party groups. Shulman responds, “I can give you assurances…[t]here is absolutely no targeting.” (Source, Source, Source, and Source)
March 23, 2012: The IRS sends a supplementary response (containing additional information) to the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, and again makes no mention of any knowledge that conservative groups are being targeted. (Source)
March 27, 2012: Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) send Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner a letter requesting information related to the reports that conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status have been receiving extra scrutiny from the IRS. (Source)
March 2012: Oversight and Government Reform Committee representatives meet with staffers from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to discuss IRS policies for scrutinizing organizations applying for tax-exempt status. In response, then-Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement Steven Miller directs the IRS to launch an internal review of the actions taken by the Exempt Organizations Division. (Source)
March 30, 2012: Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ permanent subcommittee on investigations, writes a March 30, 2012 letter to then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman discussing the “urgency” of the issue of possible political activity by nonprofit applicants. Levin asks if the IRS has been sending out additional information requests to applicant groups, and he cites an IRS rejection letter to a conservative group as an example of how the IRS should be conducting its business.
“Some entities claiming tax-exempt status as social welfare organizations under 26 U.S.C.&501(c)(4) appear to be engaged in political activities more appropriate for political organizations claiming tax-exempt status under 26 U.S.C.&527,” Sen. Levin writes. “Because of the urgency of the issues involved in this matter, please provide the following information by April 20, 2012.”
Levin asks ”if it is not provided on a routine basis, approximately what percentage of such applicants receive an IRS questionnaire seeking information about any political activities, and how the IRS determines whether and when to send that questionnaire; and approximately how many days after an application is filed that questionnaire is typically sent.”
Levin cites a 1997 IRS rejection letter to the conservative group National Policy Forum, formed by former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour, and asks Shulman, “Is it still the position of the IRS that a 501(c)(4) organization cannot engage in any partisan political activity, even as a secondary activity?” (Source)
April 4, 2012: During a telephone briefing, Lois Lerner tells Oversight and Government Reform Committee staff that the information which the IRS has been requesting in its additional follow-up letters to conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status is not beyond the bounds of ordinary practice. (Source)
April 23, 2012: House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany and 61 other House Republicans send a letter to IRS Deputy Director Steven Miller, inquiring about discriminatory practices against conservative groups. (Source and Source)
April 23, 2012: IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins, who was appointed by President Obama in 2009, meets with Obama in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. (Source)
April 24, 2012: IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman (William Wilkins’ boss) and two other IRS officials—Shulman’s chief-of-staff and political aide Jonathan Davis and IRS spokesman Frank Keith—meet for eight-and-a-half hours with a top White House official, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Jeffrey Zients, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building located at the White House complex. (Source and Source)
April 25, 2012: The IRS Chief Counsel’s office (led by William Wilkins) sends Washington-based IRS officials new guidelines on how to scrutinize Tea Party and conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. (Source)
April 26, 2012: The IRS sends a second supplementary response to the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee but includes no information about its practice of targeting conservative groups. (Source)
April 26, 2012: Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner, responding to the March 27th letter from Chairmen Issa and Jordan, writesthat the IRS letters to targeted conservative organizations were “in the ordinary course of the application process to obtain the information as the IRS deems necessary to make a determination whether the organization meets the legal requirements for tax-exempt status.” (Source)
May 3, 2012: The IRS, having completed its own internal review of the targeting scandal, concludes that there has been a substantial, inappropriate bias against conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. IRS Deputy Director Steven Miller is informed of this finding. (Source, Source, and Source)
May 15, 2012: IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller identifies two “rogue” employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office as being mainly responsible for the “overly aggressive” handling of requests by conservative groups for tax-exempt status. Miller says the staffers have already been disciplined. (Source)
May 2012: David Camp, Republican Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, sends a letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman requesting copies of all 501(c)(4) applications from 2010 and 2011. (Source)
May 2012: In 45-page letters to two lawmakers who inquired about the IRS targeting of conservative groups, Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner makes no mention of any such practice. (Source)
May 2012: IRS officials determine that there were seven types of information asked of conservative applicants, including donor information, that were inappropriate. (Source)
June 4, 2012: In response to Sen. Carl Levin’s March 30, 2012 letter, then-IRS deputy commissioner Steven T. Miller sends Levin a 16-page response explaining that the flexibility of IRS rules allow for the agency to “prepare individualized questions and requests.”
“There is no standard questionnaire used to obtain information about political activities,” Miller writes. “Although there is a template development letter that describes the general information on the case development process, the letter does not specify the information to be requested from any particular organization … Consequently, revenue agents prepare individualized questions and requests for documents relevant to the application. . .” (Sourceand Source)
June 4, 2012: The Inspector General (IG) informs the Treasury Department’s general counsel that he has been auditing the IRS’s screening of politically active groups seeking tax exemptions. The IG then gives the same information to Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin “shortly after.” This means that Obama administration officials are now fully aware of the matter. (Source)
June 14, 2012: In an email to IRS official Lois Lerner and others, Treasury official Ruth Madrigal writes: “Don’t know who in your organizations is keeping tabs on c4s, but since we mentioned potentially addressing them (off-plan) in 2013, I’ve got my radar up and this seemed interesting…”
This email demonstrates that the Treasury Department and Lerner have been conspiring to draft new 501(c)(4) regulations to restrict the activity of conservative groups in a manner that would be “off-plan” — meaning that they would not be disclosed publicly and would not be published on the public schedule. According to the Daily Caller:
“The rules place would place much more stringent controls on what would be considered political activity by the IRS, effectively limiting the standard practices of a wide array of non-profit groups…. The new rules define more previously acceptable activities by nonprofit groups as prohibited ‘candidate-related political activity.’ Communications and activities including voter registration drives and publishing voter guides, among others, are now classified as political activity. Grants and donations that 501(c)(4)’s give to other nonprofits are now subject to new record-keeping and increased scrutiny to prevent the money’s use for broadly-defined political activity.” (Source)
June 15, 2012: IRS Deputy Director Steven Miller responds to an April 23 letter signed by Charles Boustany, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, and 61 other House Republicans, but includes no information about the IRS’s discriminatory practices against conservative groups. Stating generally that the IRS has recently been seeing more tax-exempt applications from politically active groups and has been striving to “coordinate the handling of the case to ensure consistency,” Lerner does not concede that conservatives have been singled out. (Source and Source)
June 25, 2012: The House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee holds a hearing on charitable organizations. When asked about IRS harassment of conservative groups, IRS Deputy Director Steven Miller makes no reference to any discriminatory practices but says: “I am aware that some two hundred 501(c)(4) applications fell into this category [the determinations letter process]. We did group those organizations together to ensure consistency, to ensure quality.” During his testimony, Miller does not disclose what he was told on May 3 regarding the targeting of Tea Party groups. (Source and Source)
July 10, 2012: Sharon Light, then-advisor to Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner, emails Lerner a National Public Radio story on how outside money was making it difficult for Democrats to hold onto their Senate majority. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already complained to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that conservative groups should be treated as political committees, rather than as tax-exempt social welfare groups. “Perhaps the FEC will save the day,” Ms. Lerner replies later that morning in an email. (Source)
July 30, 2012: In a letter, Senator Carl Levin singles out 12 groups he wants investigated for “political activity.” Of the groups, only one – Priorities USA – is left-leaning. (Source)
September 11, 2012: IRS Deputy Commissioner Steven Miller writes a letter responding to Senator Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, who has already written three times to the IRS about complaints related to the targeting of conservative groups. Miller again does not acknowledge the scrutiny to which conservative groups were subjected. (Source)
September 27, 2012: Senator Carl Levin asks for copies of the answers to IRS exemption application question 15 – a question about planned political expenditures – from four specific groups: Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, Priorities USA, Americans for Prosperity, and Patriot Majority USA. (Source)
October 17, 2012: IRS Deputy Commissioner Steven Miller informs Senator Carl Levin, “As discussed in our previous responses dated June 4, 2012, and August 24, 2012, the IRS cannot legally disclose whether the organizations on your list have applied for tax exemptions unless and until such application is approved.” Miller, however, then informs Levin that Americans for Prosperity and Patriot Majority have been approved, but the IRS has no records for Crossroads and Priorities USA. (Source)
October 23, 2012: Senator Carl Levin writes to again express his dissatisfaction with the IRS handling of “social welfare” (501(c)(4) organizations insisting that IRS guidance “misinterprets the law” by allowing any political activity. He again demands an answer as to whether the four organizations he listed in his previous letter (of September 27, 2012) were primarily engaged in the promotion of social welfare. He also seeks copies of tax exempt revocation letters sent due to c4 political activities, as well as statistics on how many c4s have been notified that they may be in violation due to political activities. (Source)
Fall 2012: Pursuant to a request by David Camp, Republican Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the IRS makes all 501(c)(4) applications from 2010 and 2011 available to that Committee. (Source)
November 9, 2012: In an email exchange that Lois Lerner conducts via her official IRS email account with an unnamed colleague at the agency, the colleague writes: “Well, you should hear the whacko wing of the GOP. The US is through; too many foreigners sucking the teat; time to hunker down, buy ammo and food, and prepare for the end. The right wing radio shows are scary to listen to. And I’m talking about the hosts of the shows. The callers are rabid.” Lerner replies, “Great. Maybe we are through if there are that many assholes.” She adds: “So we don’t need to worry about teRroists [sic]. It’s our own crazies that will take us down.” (Source)
In an email to another colleague, Lerner, responding to a news article about the pro-Obama non-profit Organizing for Action, writes: “Oh – maybe I can get the DC office job!” (Source) [This information was made public on July 30, 2014, when House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Michigan Republican) turned it over to the Justice Department in support of an investigation into criminal wrongdoing at the IRS.]
November 11, 2012: Douglas Shulman steps down as IRS Director and is replaced by Steven Miller. (Source)
November 15, 2012: Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner and IRS staffers meet with House Ways and Means Committee staff but again do not mention their knowledge about the targeting of conservative groups. (Source and Source)
March 15, 2013 – New Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is informed of the IRS targeting probe. (Source)
March 27, 2013: In an email to a top staffer at the IRS, Lois Lerner writes: “As I mentioned yesterday — there are several groups of folks from the FEC [Federal Election Commission] world that are pushing tax fraud prosecution for c4s who report they are not conducting political activity when they are (or these folks think they are). One is my ex-boss Larry Noble (former General Counsel at the FEC), who is now president of Americans for Campaign Reform. This is their latest push to shut these down. One IRS prosecution would make an impact and they wouldn’t feel so comfortable doing the stuff. So, don’t be fooled about how this is being articulated – it is ALL about 501(c)(4) orgs and political activity.” (Source)
April 2, 2013: Lois Lerner sends an email to internal IRS investigators that tries to explain the “Be on the Lookout” (BOLO) criteria used to select organizations for screening and scrutiny:
… Because the BOLO only contained a brief reference to “Organizations involved with the Tea Party movement applying for exemption under 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4)” in June 2011, the EO Determinations manager asked the manager of the screening group, John Shafer [IRS Cincinnati field office manager], what criteria were being used to label cases as “tea party ” cases. (“Do the applications specify/state ‘ tea party’? If not, how do we know applicant is involved with the tea party movement?”) The screening group manager asked his employees how they were applying the BOLO’s short –hand reference to “tea party.” His employees responded that they were including organizations meeting any of the following criteria as falling within the BOLO’s reference to “tea party” organizations: “1. ‘Tea Party’, ‘Patriots’ or ’9/12 Project’ is referenced in the case file. 2. Issues include government spending, government debt and taxes. 3. Educate the public through advocacy/legislative activities to make America a better place to live. 4. Statements in the case file that are critical of the how the country is being run. . .” So, we believe we have provided information that shows that no one in EO “developed” the criteria. Rather, staff used their own interpretations of the brief reference to “organizations involved with the Tea Party movement,” which was what was on the BOLO list.
Lerner neglects to mention that her office was “developing” the applications for all Tea Party groups. (Source)
April 9, 2013: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) chairs a hearing in which he discusses the abuse of the 501(c)(4) tax-exempt designation. During that hearing, he makes his leftist agenda clear, insisting that “after the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in elections in its disgraceful Citizens United decision, big donors like to use these non-profit entities to launder campaign spending and hide their identities.” Whitehouse also asks witnesses from DOJ and IRS why they haven’t prosecuted 501(c)(4) groups who have made false statements about their activities, or donors who have used shell companies to mask their donations to Super PACs. He urges both entities to “put together a criminal case showing a fairly straightforward false statement or a fairly [straightforward] shell corporation disclosure violation.”(Source)
April 9, 2013: In an email exchange with fellow IRS employees, Lois Lerner writes: “I was cautioning folks about email and how we have had several occasions where Congress has asked for emails and there has been an electronic search for responsive emails — so we need to be cautious about what we say in emails.” Lerner then goes on to ask a tech staffer whether instant-message communications are stored automatically. When that staffer tells her that such messages are not stored anywhere (unless one of the parties makes copies of them), Lerner replies, “Perfect.”
April 22, 2013: According to White House spokesman Jay Carney, this is the date when the White House Counsel first learns that the Inspector General will soon be completing its report about the IRS office in Cincinnati, which handles tax-exempt applications. (Source and Source)
May 1, 2013: After receiving an email from an assistant showing that 501(c)(4) applications have increased from 1,591 in 2010 to 3,398 in 2012, Lois Lerner writes back, “Looks to me like 2010-2012 doubled too. Oh well – thanks.” (Source)
May 2, 2013: Discussing an upcoming conference call with approximately 100 congressional staffers, Lerner cautions aides, “Need to be careful not to mention sequester/furlough unless asked although can allude to budget and resources restraints.” (Source)
May 2, 2013: In response to an email reminding her about the upcoming conference call with congressional staffers, Lerner responds, “Arrgh – I just saw it. Sharon [White] could skate, but Cindy [Thomas] is the person who could answer that stuff. We need to give them some type of language in the event that type of question comes up” [apparently in reference to earlier email referencing “sensitive issues”]. (Source)
May 8, 2013: Lois Lerner sends the following email to Nikole C. Flax, then-Chief of Staff to then-Acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller: “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 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…” (Source)
May 9, 2013: Flax responds to Lois Lerner: “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?(Source)
May 9, 2013: At an American Bar Association (ABA) conference, attorney Celia Roady asks a planted question of Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner regarding the IRS targeting scandal. The Inspector General’s report on the scandal was slated to be given to the White House the next day, and Lerner chose the ABA event as a venue for issuing a preemptive apology in advance of that report. Several days later, Cecilia Roady explains how this was arranged:
“On May 9, I received a call from Lois Lerner, who told me that she wanted to address an issue after her prepared remarks … and asked if I would pose a question to her after her remarks. I agreed to do so.… We had no discussion thereafter on the topic of the question, nor had we spoken about any of this before I received her call. She did not tell me, and I did not know, how she would answer the question.” (Source and Source)
May 10, 2013: Blaming low-level IRS employees in Cincinnati, Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner says that no high-level officials were aware of the IRS targeting of conservative groups until she began “seeing information in the press that raised questions for us.” She apologizes on behalf of the IRS for the “inappropriate” targeting. This same day, White House counsel receives the Inspector General’s report, and President Barack Obama is said to have heard of the matter for the first time. (Source, Source, and Source)
May 10, 2013: In an email to an aide responding to a request for information from a Washington Post reporter, Lerner admits that she “can’t confirm that there was anyone on the other side of the political spectrum” who was targeted by the IRS. She then adds that “The one with the names used were only know [sic] because they have been very loud in the press.” (Source)
May 10, 2013: An email from former Cincinnati program manager Cindy Thomas excoriates Lois Lerner for her comments blaming low-level IRS employees. Highlighting the words “low-level workers” in bold-face type each of the seven times she used it in a short email, Thomas asks, “How am I supposed to keep the low-level workers motivated when the public believes they are nothing more than low-level workers and now will have no respect for how they are working cases?” Lerner responds tersely nearly an hour later: “I will be back shortly and give you a call.” (Source)
May 13, 2013: President Obama claims to have learned about the IRS targeting just three days earlier: ”I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this. I think it was on Friday.” He says that if the IRS intentionally targeted conservatives, it was “outrageous.” The Democratic-controlled Senate Finance Committee joins Republican-led House committees in planning new investigations into the matter. (Source, Source, and Source)
May 13, 2013: The Daily Mail reports that the IRS, in many of its audits of conservative groups, “demanded to know the names of all its financial donors and volunteers, as part of a 55-question inquisition into its application for tax-exempt status.” For example, the questionnaire: (a) wanted to know “the names of the donors, contributors, and grantors” for every year “from inception to the present”; (b) demanded a listing of “the amounts of each of the donations, contributions, and grants and the dates you received them”; and (c) and asked the targeted groups to “provide the details” about how they had “use[d] these donations, contributions, and grants.”
May 14, 2013: White House press secretary Jay Carney says in a press conference that the White House was notified about the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups “several weeks ago.” Later in the press conference, however, Carney says that that he nor the President were notified individually. (Source)
May 14, 2013: IRS Director Steven Miller says that his agency demonstrated “a lack of sensitivity” in trying to determine whether conservative groups were eligible for tax exemption. The Justice Department says it will conduct a criminal investigation, the Inspector General’s report (titled “Inappropriate Criteria Were Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review”) is released to the public, and President Obama calls the findings “intolerable and inexcusable.” (Source and Source)
May 14, 2013: A Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report reveals that the IRS has singled out groups with conservative-sounding terms such as “patriot” and “Tea Party” in their titles when applying for tax-exempt status. The TIGTA probe determined that “Early in Calendar Year 2010, the IRS began using inappropriate criteria to identify organizations applying for tax-exempt status (e.g., lists of past and future donors).” The illegal IRS reviews continued for more than 18 months and “delayed processing of targeted groups applications” preparing for the 2012 presidential election. (Source)
May 15, 2013 – The IRS announces that IRS Director Steven Miller will be resigning in June, at which time he was already scheduled to leave anyway. (Source)
May 15, 2013: In an email to Lois Lerner, an aide specifically mentions “Tea Party Organizations,” the “Tea Party movement,” and “Tea Party Patriots” as organizations targeted by the IRS. (Source)
May 16, 2013: At a press conference, Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg News asks President Obama the following question (italics added for emphasis):
“Mr. President, I want to ask you about the IRS. Can you assure the American people that nobody in the White House knew about the agency’s actions before your Counsel’s Office found out on April 22nd? And when they did find out, do you think that you should have learned about it before you learned about it from news reports as you said last Friday? And also, are you opposed to there being a special counsel appointed to lead the Justice Department investigation?”
Obama replies, evasively:
“[L]et me make sure that I answer your specific question. I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report had been leaked through the press.”(Source)
May 16, 2013: President Obama calls the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups “outrageous and unacceptable.” He also reiterates that he was unaware of the targeting until news reports began coming out six days earlier. (Source)
May 17, 2013: The New York Times reports that the White House actually learned of the IRS targeting on June 4, 2012—five months prior to the 2012 elections. (Source and Source)
May 17, 2013: In a congressional hearing, acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller apologizes for “foolish mistakes” carried out by IRS employees “trying to be more efficient in their workload selection.” But he strongly pushes back against Republican assertions that the agency is politicized. Moreover, he maintains that he did not lie to Congress—even though he never revealed the targeting program in response to repeated requests from Republican lawmakers in recent years. “I did not mislead Congress,” he says. “I answered the questions as they were asked.” Miller also says that he takes “exception” to the term “targeting” because “It’s a loaded term.” (Source)
May 20, 2013: The Colfax, California-based NorCal Tea Party—claiming that its application for tax-exempt status has been wrongfully subjected to extra scrutiny—launches a lawsuit against the IRS. (Source)
May 21, 2013: In a congressional hearing, former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, who stepped down from that post when his five-year term expired in November 2012, tells the Senate Finance Committee he did not learn all the facts about the targeting of conservative groups until he read the preceding week’s Inspector General report confirming the targeting strategy. “I agree this is an issue that when someone spotted it, they should have brought it up the chain,” he says. “And they didn’t. I don’t know why.” Also during the hearing:
May 21, 2013: True the Vote, a conservative organization that fights for electoral integrity and was targeted by the IRS, files suit against the IRS in federal court. (Source)
May 22, 2013: At a congressional hearing into the targeting scandal, Lois Lerner (Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division) gives a self-serving opening statement and then immediately pleads the Fifth Amendment, refusing to answer any questions. Says Lerner:
“… My professional career has been devoted to fulfilling responsibilities of the agencies for which I have worked, and I am very proud of the work that I have done in government…. I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws, I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee. And while I would very much like to answer the committee’s questions today, I’ve been advised by my counsel to assert my constitutional right not to testify or answer questions related to the subject matter of this hearing…. I know that some people will assume that I’ve done something wrong. I have not. One of the basic functions of the Fifth Amendment is to protect innocent individuals, and that is the protection I’m invoking today.” (Source)
May 23, 2013: Lois Lerner is placed on administrative leave from the IRS. (Source)
May 29, 2013: CBS News reports that after Texas businesswoman Catherine Engelbrecht founded two conservative organizations, she was harassed to an extreme degree by the IRS as well as other government agencies. That prompted her to file a federal lawsuit in May 2013. According to CBS:
The trouble began shortly after Engelbrecht founded True the Vote, which trains election volunteers and aims to root out voter fraud, and King Street Patriots, a group with ideals similar to the Tea Party. Both sought tax-exempt status from the IRS in July 2010. And both organizations drew the ire of Democrats. Democrats accused True the Vote of intimidating voters in its poll watching efforts, which the group denies. And the Texas Democratic Party successfully sued King Street Patriots, arguing that it’s an unregistered political action committee.
But Engelbrecht’s attorney, Cleta Mitchell, says it’s not just the Democratic Party that went after the conservative causes, but also the federal government. Within months of the groups filing for tax-exempt status, Engelbrecht claims she started getting hit by an onslaught of harassment: six FBI domestic terrorism inquiries, an IRS visit, two IRS business audits, two IRS personal audits, and inspections of her equipment manufacturing company by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Texas environmental quality officials….
All the while, the IRS tax-exempt applications seemed to languish. Engelbrecht says the IRS requested additional information from True the Vote five times, requiring thousands of pages of documentation. Engelbrecht estimates she’s spent more than $100,000 in attorney and accountant fees to process the IRS requests. With its tax-exempt status in limbo, she says True the Vote had to return a $35,000 grant and cannot effectively fundraise. “I just kept thinking this can’t be happening.” Engelbrecht says, “it never ends.”
Engelbrecht’s attorney, Mitchell, says the IRS process for conservative groups was relatively painless, often taking just a few months, until about 2010 when there was an abrupt shift: simple questions became intrusive, lengthy interrogations requiring professional legal help. Applicants sometimes had to spend tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees, they lost revenue, and in some cases, got so discouraged that they gave up on tax-exempt status altogether.
Washington, DC attorney John Pomeranz represents liberal organizations seeking tax-exemption. He told CBS News that he has found some of the IRS requests of tea party groups “new” and “very troubling,” and said he doesn’t recall getting similar demands for his liberal clients. (Source)
May 31, 2013: It is reported that the IRS is being sued by 25 Tea Party groups in federal court over its illegal targeting practices. (Source)
June 2013: The Treasury Department’s Inspector General reveals that just 6 liberal/left groups were targeted by the IRS, compared to 292 conservative groups. The IG also says that 100% of conservative groups seeking special tax status— i.e., all 292 of them—were put under IRS review, while only 30% of the liberal/left groups were put under such review. (Source, Source, and Source)
June 5, 2013: It is reported that Sarah Hall Ingram, who headed the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division in 2010 when the scandal-ridden agency began improperly targeting the tax-exempt nonprofit status of conservative groups, has logged 165 recorded visits to the White House since 2011. (Fully 155 of those were hosted by Jeanne Lambrew, deputy assistant to the president for health policy.) None of Ingram’s 165 meetings overlapped with those of former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, whose name has appeared in the White House visitor logs 157 times since September 15, 2009. In short, these two IRS officials have been responsible for more than 300 White House visits since the beginning of the Obama administration. (Sourceand Source)
June 11, 2013: Pepperdine University Law School professor Paul L. Caronreveals the astonishing extent to which IRS attorneys supported Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential campaign:
Of the IRS lawyers who made contributions in the 2012 election, 95% contributed to Obama rather than to Romney. So among IRS lawyers, the ratio of Obama contributors to Romney contributors was not merely 4-to-1 at previously reported, but more like 20-to-1. The ratio of funds to Obama was even more lopsided, with about 32 times as much money going to Obama as to Romney from IRS lawyers….
The data show, however, that the partisanship of the lawyers in the IRS is not unusual or even particularly extreme among federal agencies. In fact, the lawyers in every single federal government agency–from the Department of Education [100%] to the Department of Defense [68%] — contributed overwhelmingly to Obama compared to Romney.
July 18, 2013: Testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, top IRS attorney Carter Hull—a 48-year IRS veteran who will soon retire—says that in the winter of 2010-11:
“[I] was assigned by my supervisor to work on two applications of tea party groups. In that same month, I became aware that a group of tea party applications were being held by EO (Exempt Organizations) determinations in Cincinnati. It was my understanding that the applications assigned to me would be ‘test cases’ to provide guidance for those other applications. I was also told by my supervisor that I was to coordinate the review of the tea party applications that were assigned to Elizabeth Hofacre in Cincinnati.”
The most damning part of Hull’s testimony involves a directive from Lois Lerner’s senior advisor, who told him that the applications would require further review and “should go to the [IRS] chief counsel”—i.e., William Wilkins, an Obama appointee. (Source and Source)
July 24, 2013: During an economic address at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, President Obama charges that Republicans have turned the IRS matter into part of “an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals.” (Source)
August 13, 2013: According to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and his colleague, Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner has been using a non-official, personal email account to conduct official government business. This is a violation of U.S. law, which requires those employed by federal agencies to retain all of their emails in the event that they are someday needed for lawsuits or congressional investigations. (Source)
August 2013: Congress issues its first subpoena for all emails sent or received by Lois Lerner from Jan. 1, 2009 to Aug. 2, 2013. (Source)
September 23, 2013: Lois Lerner, the woman at the center of the IRS Tea Party targeting scandal, retires from the agency after an internal investigation finds that she was guilty of “neglect of duties” and prepares to call for her dismissal. (Source)
October 9, 2013: It is learned that top IRS official Sarah Hall Ingram in 2012 discussed confidential taxpayer information with senior Obama White House officials — including Lois Lerner, then head of the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations division — as evidenced by a series of 2012 emails obtained by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. At that time, Ingram headed the IRS office responsible for overseeing tax-exempt nonprofit groups.
Specifically, Ingram sought to counsel the White House on how to handle a lawsuit filed by religious organizations opposing Obamacare’s mandate for contraception coverage. As the Daily Caller reports: “Email exchanges involving Ingram and White House officials — including White House health policy advisor Ellen Montz and deputy assistant to the president for health policy Jeanne Lambrew — contained confidential taxpayer information, according to Oversight.” This was a violation of Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, which forbids — on pain of up to five years in prison — a federal employee from “disclos[ing] any return or return information obtained by him in any manner in connection with his service as such an officer or an employee.”
in her October 9 testimony before Rep. Darrell Issa’s House Oversight Committee, Ingram says she cannot recall a document that contained confidential taxpayer information. (Source)
November 2013: The House Oversight Committee subpoenas all emails sent or received by Lois Lerner from Jan. 1, 2009 to Aug. 2, 2013. (Source)
February 2, 2014: In an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, President Obama adamantly rejects the suggestion that the IRS had been used for political purposes by targeting Tea Party groups that sought tax-exempt status. “That’s not what happened,” Obama says, explaining that certain IRS officials had simply made some “some bone-headed decisions” due to their confusion about the proper procedure for implementing the law governing tax-exempt organizations. When asked whether corruption, or mass corruption, had been a factor, Obama replies: “Not even mass corruption—not even a smidgen of corruption.” Obama also acknowledges that then-IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman had been to the White House more than 100 times, but says he cannot recall speaking to him on any of those occasions. (Source)
February 2, 2014: IRS officials first learn that many of Lois Lerner’s emails are missing. (Source)
February 4, 2014: Lois Lerner’s computer crashes. (Source)
February 11, 2014: House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Michigan) says that his committee’s continuing investigation has found that the IRS targeting of conservative groups extended far beyond merely placing hurdles in the path of organizations that were seeking 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. Says Camp:
“We now know that the IRS targeted not only right-leaning applicants, but also right-leaning groups that were already operating as 501(c)(4)s. At Washington, DC’s direction, dozens of groups operating as 501(c)(4)s were flagged for IRS surveillance, including monitoring of the groups’ activities, websites and any other publicly available information. Of these groups, 83% were right-leaning. And of the groups the IRS selected for audit, 100% were right-leaning.” (Source)
March 5, 2014: Former IRS official Lois Lerner once again invokes her Fifth Amendment right not to testify at a House Oversight Committee hearing, just as she previously did on May 22, 2013. Though Republicans argue that Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment right by giving a statement during that May 22 hearing, Lerner, in response to several questions, says: “On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.” (Source)
After the hearing is adjourned, Lerner’s attorney, Bill Taylor, says that his client will make no further statements or give any testimony unless forced to. According to Taylor, the Oversight Committee “would have to start all over” in its investigation to compel Lerner back to the witness stand. (Source)
March 11, 2014: Darrell Issa’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issues a staff report on Lois Lerner and her involvement in the IRS targeting of conservative groups. According to Brietbart.com:
The [Oversight Committee] report suggests Lerner misled Congress in four instances and attempted to downplay the inappropriate targeting after it came to light.
The report says Lerner was concerned about the political implications of allowing 501(c)(4) groups to spend money on election related activity in the wake of the Citizens United decision. The Oversight Committee report concludes that Lerner was involved in three separate efforts to curb such spending. From the report’s conclusion:
Evidence indicates Lerner and her Exempt Organizations unit took a three pronged approach to “do something about it” to “fix the problem” of nonprofit political speech:
1) Scrutiny of new applicants for tax-exempt status (which began as Tea Party targeting);
2) Plans to scrutinize organizations, like those supported by the “Koch Brothers,” that were already acting as 501(c)(4) organizations; and
3)“[O]ff plan” efforts to write new rules cracking down on political activity to replace those that had been in place since 1959.
The sense conveyed in the report is that Lerner was concerned IRS activity might appear to be “per se political” (as she warned in one email) even as she helped slow walk any movement toward approval on cases which were, overwhelmingly, conservative groups.
In the summer of 2011, Lerner learned about the criteria used to gather the Tea Party cases, which included “[s]tatements in the case file [that] criticize how the country is being run.” As a result she adjusted the criteria for selection so it would not appear to be focused on right-leaning groups. However, while her adjusting of the criteria represents an admission that the prior criteria had been problematic, she apparently made no effort to release the cases selected under that criteria. Tea Party cases remained gummed up in the multi-tier review process she had recommended.
The same briefing prepared for Lerner noted that one of the groups under scrutiny “stated it will conduct advocacy and political campaign intervention, but political campaign intervention will account for 20% or less of activities.” That’s far below the 49% threshold set by law. The briefing for Lerner added, “A proposed favorable letter has been sent to Counsel for review.” But the report notes that as of June 2013, a full two years later, the application was still pending.
And there is no doubt Lerner was aware who was being scrutinized. In July 2012, Lerner was notified by email that of the 199 501(c)(4) cases which had been set aside “approximately 3/4 appear to be conservative leaning while fewer than 10 appear to be liberal/progressive leaning groups…”
Earlier in 2012, Lerner was asked a series of questions by Committee staff. The report lays out four instances where she appears to have misled them in her answers. For instance, Lerner was asked whether criteria for examining 501(c)(4) cases had been changed at any time. She said no. But, as noted above, she had changed the criteria used to identify cases for scrutiny herself in 2011.
In response to another Committee question about letters sent to conservative groups demanding donor lists, Lerner replied this had been done “in the ordinary course of the application process.”
Later, in 2013, the Committee learned from the IRS Commissioner’s Chief of Staff, Nikole Flax, that she was unable to find another instance in the IRS’ history where such a request had been made.
Finally, the report is critical of Lerner’s attempt to downplay the import of the TIGTA findings by arranging a planted question to which Lerner could give a scripted answer claiming the targeting had been a mistake, not “a political vendetta.” Internally, Lerner wrote an email saying of the forthcoming report, “It is what it is … we will get dinged.” But a few months later, just before the report was released, she was exploring her retirement options. (Source)
March 26, 2014: In testimony before the House Oversight Committee, IRS commissioner John Koskinen makes no mention of Lois Lerner’s computer hard-drive crash. Under questioning by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Koskinen says that IRS emails “get taken off and stored in servers.” He also acknowledges that seven months after Congress first asked the IRS to supply Lerner’s emails request, the agency has not yet begun serious work to find them and turn them over. But he assures: “We can find, and we are in fact searching, we can find Lois Lerner’s emails.” (Source)
April 7, 2014: A new report by by aides to Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, reveals that IRS agents have testified before Congress that — contrary to recent claims by Democrats — the agency’s political targeting did not apply to liberal/left organizations. A Daily Caller story explains:
IRS agents testified before Oversight that ACORN groups were scrutinized because the agency thought they were old organizations applying as new ones. Emerge America was scrutinized for potential “improper private benefit.” No evidence exists that the IRS requested additional information from any Occupy Wall Street group.
“Only seven applications in the IRS backlog contained the word ‘progressive,’ all of which were then approved by the IRS, while Tea Party groups received unprecedented review and experienced years-long delays. While some liberal-oriented groups were singled out for scrutiny, evidence shows it was due to non-political reasons,” according to the Oversight staff report….
“[T]he Administration and congressional Democrats have seized upon the notion that the IRS’s targeting was not just limited to conservative applicants,” the report states. “These Democratic claims are flat-out wrong and have no basis in any thorough examination of the facts. Yet, the Administration’s chief defenders continue to make these assertions in a concerted effort to deflect and distract from the truth about the IRS’s targeting of tax-exempt applicants.”
“[T]here is simply no evidence that any liberal or progressive group received enhanced scrutiny because its application reflected the organization’s political views,” the report stated.
April 9, 2014: The Washington Times reports that a government watchdog is pursuing cases against three IRS employees and offices suspected of engaging in illegal political activity in support of President Obama and fellow Democrats:
In one case the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates federal employees who conduct politics on government time, said it was “commonplace” in a Dallas IRS office for employees to have pro-Obama screensavers on their computers, and to have campaign-style buttons and stickers at their office.
In another case, a worker at the tax agency’s customer help line urged taxpayers “to re-elect President Obama in 2012 by repeatedly reciting a chant based on the spelling of his last name,” the Office of Special Counsel said in a statement. OSC said it is seeking “significant disciplinary action” against that employee.
Another IRS employee in Kentucky has agreed to serve a 14-day suspension for blasting Republicans in a conversation with a taxpayer.
“They’re going to take women back 40 years,” the IRS employee said in a conversation that was recorded. The employee also said that “if you vote for a Republican, the rich are going to get richer and the poor are going to get poorer.”
That employee went on to tell the taxpayer she knew she wasn’t supposed to be voicing her political opinions, and asked the taxpayer not to say anything.
In the Dallas situation, the OSC issued a letter to employees reminding them they aren’t allowed to do anything that would appear to be campaigning. “Specifically, it was alleged that employees have worn partisan political stickers, buttons, and clothing to work and have displayed partisan political screensavers on their IRS computers. It was alleged that these items expressed support for President Barack Obama,” the OSC said.
The IRS issued a statement saying it couldn’t comment on specifics, but vowing it took complaints of politicking seriously.
May 6, 2014: The House of Representatives, in a 231-187 vote, decides to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about the scandal in which the IRS targeted conservative groups, despite a subpoena that demanded her testimony. Six Democrats side with Republicans in the vote.
May 14, 2014: The Daily Caller reports the following:
The IRS’ Washington, D.C. headquarters targeted conservative groups in part due to pressure from Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, according to emails obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch and reviewed by The Daily Caller [DC].
Levin, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ permanent subcommittee on investigations, wrote a March 30, 2012 letter to then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman discussing the “urgency” of the issue of possible political activity by nonprofit applicants. Levin asked if the IRS was sending out additional information requests to applicant groups and cit[ed] an IRS rejection letter to a conservative group as an example of how the IRS should be conducting its business.
A top IRS official replied that the agency could send out “individualized questions and requests.”
“Some entities claiming tax-exempt status as social welfare organizations under 26 U.S.C.&501(c)(4) appear to be engaged in political activities more appropriate for political organizations claiming tax-exempt status under 26 U.S.C.&527,” Sen. Levin wrote. “Because of the urgency of the issues involved in this matter, please provide the following information by April 20, 2012.”
Levin asked ”if it is not provided on a routine basis, approximately what percentage of such applicants receive an IRS questionnaire seeking information about any political activities, and how the IRS determines whether and when to send that questionnaire; and approximately how many days after an application is filed that questionnaire is typically sent.”
Levin cited a 1997 IRS rejection letter to the conservative group National Policy Forum, formed by former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour, and asked Shulman, “Is it still the position of the IRS that a 501(c)(4) organization cannot engage in any partisan political activity, even as a secondary activity?”
Then-IRS deputy commissioner Steven T. Miller sent Levin a 16-page response explaining that the flexibility of IRS rules allow for the agency to “prepare individualized questions and requests.”
“There is no standard questionnaire used to obtain information about political activities,” Miller wrote. “Although there is a template development letter that describes the general information on the case development process, the letter does not specify the information to be requested from any particular organization … Consequently, revenue agents prepare individualized questions and requests for documents relevant to the application. . .”
As TheDC has extensively reported, IRS agents targeted groups’ donors, seized training information, demanded personal information on college interns, and even targeted individuals by name.
The emails obtained by Judicial Watch clearly demonstrate that the targeting was based in Washington, D.C.
IRS official Holly Paz wrote a July 6, 2010 email to Washington-based IRS lawyer Steven Grodnitzky “to let Cindy and Sharon know how we have been handling Tea Party applications in the last few months.” Grodnitzky replied to the email, confirming that the Washington-based Exempt Organization Technical unit (EOT) was designing the targeting in the nation’s capital.
“EOT is working the Tea party applications in coordination with Cincy. We are developing a few applications here in DC and providing copies of our development letters with the agent to use as examples in the development of their cases,” Grodnitzky wrote.
“Chip Hull [another lawyer in IRS headquarters] is working these cases in EOT and working with the agent in Cincy, so any communication should include him as well. Because the Tea party applications are the subject of an SCR [Sensitive Case Report], we cannot resolve any of the cases without coordinating with Rob,” Grodnitzky wrote.
“Rob” is believed to be then-IRS director of rulings and agreements Rob Choi, who was based at the agency’s Washington headquarters, according to Judicial Watch.
Lois Lerner also sent an April 2013 email to IRS internal investigators shortly before the scandal broke, explaining that “staff used their own interpretations of the brief reference to ‘organizations involved with the Tea Party movement,’ which was what was on the BOLO list.” (Source)
June 13, 2014: The IRS tells Congress that due to a computer crash, it has lost many of former employee Lois Lerner’s emails from 2009-11 — specifically, those she transmitted to other federal agencies including the White House, the Justice Department, the Federal Election Commission, the Treasury Department, and Democratic Members of Congress.
Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, says: “The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to congressional inquiries…. Frankly, these are the critical years [2009-11] of the targeting of conservative groups that could explain who knew what when, and what, if any, coordination there was between agencies. Instead, because of this loss of documents, we are conveniently left to believe that Lois Lerner acted alone.”
In a letter to IRS commissioner John Koskinen, House oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa, who issued a subpoena seeking IRS documents, says that more than 1 million pertinent documents have yet to be produced.
“At this rate, the IRS’ response to the committee’s subpoena will drag on for years,” he wrote. (Source)
June 17, 2014: The IRS reports that due to computer crashes, it cannot produce e-mails from six more employees — in addition to Lois Lerner — who were involved in the targeting of conservative groups. Among the lost emails were those sent by Nikole Flax, chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller. (Source)
June 18, 2014: When Information Technology experts say they are confident that they would be able to retrieve the lost emails from Lois Lerner’s crashed computer hard drive, the IRS announces that the hard drive has been thrown away. (Source)
June 20, 2014: IRS Commissioner John Koskinen tells Congress that Lerner’s hard drive had been “recycled and destroyed in the normal process.” (Source)
June 20, 2014: In an angry exchange with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen during a Congressional hearing, Rep. Paul Ryan says:
“I’m sitting here, listening to this testimony, I don’t believe it. That’s your problem. Nobody believes you. The Internal Revenue Service comes to us a couple years ago and misleads us and tells us no targeting is occurring. Then it said it was a few rogue agents in Cincinnati. Then it said it was also on progressives. All of those things have been proven untrue….
“You are the Internal Revenue Service. You can reach into the lives of hard-working taxpayers and with a phone call, an e-mail or a letter you can turn their lives upside down. You ask taxpayers to hand onto seven years of their personal tax information in case they are ever audited and you can’t keep six months worth of employee e-mails? And now that we are seeing this investigation, you don’t have the e-mails, hard drives crashed. You learned about this months ago. You just told us, and we had to ask you on Monday.”
Koskinen replies that this was the first time in his career that someone did not believe him.
“I don’t believe you,” Ryan said again.
When the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Michigan), notes that the IRS has not issued any apology for not having informed anyone that the emails were lost long ago. “I don’t think an apology is owed,” Koskinen says. “Not a single email has been lost since the start of this investigation. Every email has been preserved that we have.”
Koskinen also says that the appointment of a special federal prosecutor to investigate how the IRS handled tax-exempt applications would be a “monumental waste of taxpayer funds.” (Source)
June 25, 2014: Under a federal court order, the IRS pays a $50,000 settlement to the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) — a group opposed to same-sex marriage — after having admitted that it was at fault for the publication of the names and addresses of NOM donors who had been identified on the organization’s tax returns; their personal information was supposed to be confidential.
“The case began when the pro-marriage group sued the IRS in 2013 because a 2008 form was leaked, and then the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates gay rights, published the information in 2012 [so that gay rights activists could target the donors of the organization for harassment]…. (Source)
July 14, 2014: The Daily Caller reports that the Federal Election Commission has recycled the computer hard drive of April Sands — an African American woman and a former co-worker of Lois Lerner’s — hindering an investigation into Sands’ partisan political activities. The report adds:
Sands resigned from the Federal Election Commission in April  after she admitted to violating the Hatch Act, which bars executive branch employees from engaging in partisan political activities on federal time and at federal facilities.
The twist is that Sands also worked under Lois Lerner when the ex-IRS agent — who is currently embroiled in a scandal over the targeting of conservative political groups — worked at the FEC’s enforcement division.
In a letter to FEC chairman Lee Goodman, Oversight chairman Darrell Issa and committee member Jim Jordan laid out Sands’ partisan activities and asked for records pertaining to the recycling of her hard drive and of the agency’s records retention policies.
Sands took part in a heavily partisan online webcam discussion from FEC offices and also operated a Twitter account with the handle @ReignOfApril which were sent during Sands’ normal working hours.
One of Sands’ tweets, from June 4, 2012 read “I just don’t understand how anyone but straight white men can vote Republican. What kind of delusional rhetorical does one use?” …
“Dear every single Republican ever, When will U learn that Barack Hussein Obama is simply smarter than U? Stand down, Signed #Obama2012 #p2,” Sands wrote on May 1, 2012.
In a message from Aug. 25, 2012, Sands called Republicans her “enemy.”
In others, Sands issued fundraising pleas on behalf of Obama. “Our #POTUS’s birthday is August 4. He’ll be 51. I’m donating $51 to give him the best birthday present ever: a second term,” she wrote on July 18, 2012.
“The bias in these messages is striking, especially for an attorney charged with the responsibility to enforce federal election laws fairly and dispassionately,” read the Oversight letter to Goodman, an Obama appointee.
The FEC’s Office of Inspector General [OIG] sought to conduct a criminal investigation into Sands’ activities but were stymied when they found that the agency had recycled her computer hard drive.
“Therefore the OIG was unable to show that Ms. Sands’ solicitations and political activity were done from an FEC computer,” reads the letter.
Because of this, the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia declined criminal prosecution.
“The FEC’s failure to retain Ms. Sands’ hard drive prevented the FEC OIG from fully pursuing appropriate criminal sanctions for Ms. Sands’ admitted violation of federal law,” wrote Issa and Jordan.
“Like the IRS’s destruction of Lois Lerner’s hard drive, the FEC’s recycling of Ms. Sands’ hard drive may have also destroyed material responsive to Freedom of Information Act and congressional oversight requests,” the letter continued. (Source)
July 22, 2014: It is learned that ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s computer hard drive was only “scratched” in February 2014 (when Lerner’s computer crashed). At that time, the IRS’s in-house IT experts stated that the lost data was still recoverable, and they advised the agency to outsource the recovery project. But instead, the IRS simply destroyed the hard drive.
“It is unbelievable that we cannot get a simple, straight answer from the IRS about this hard drive,” says Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp. “The Committee was told no data was recoverable and the physical drive was recycled and potentially shredded. To now learn that the hard drive was only scratched, yet the IRS refused to utilize outside experts to recover the data, raises more questions about potential criminal wrong doing at the IRS.”
August 14, 2014: After documents obtained in the nonprofit group Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the IRS show that that IRS technology officials have contradicted sworn testimony about damage to Lois Lerner’s computer hard drive, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan orders the IRS to file a sworn Declaration by no later than August 22 on four specific issues: the IRS’s efforts to recover Lerner’s lost emails after her computer allegedly crashed; bar codes that may have been on the hard drive; IRS policies vis a vis hard drive destruction; and information about an outside vendor who worked on IRS hard drives. Noting that a court filing which the IRS had made to the House Ways and Means Committee indicated that Lerner’s hard drive was “scratched” and then “shredded,” The Daily Callerreports:
“Aaron Signor, an IRS technician that looked at Lerner’s hard drive in June 2011, said in IRS court filings that he saw no damage to the drive before sending it off to another IRS technician … But Signor’s statement, issued in response to the Judicial Watch lawsuit, does not jibe with sworn congressional testimony…. The IRS technology official who served as the source of the ‘scratched’ and ‘shredded’ revelation is believed to have looked at the hard drive after Signor. [Judge] Sullivan’s order seems to have been motivated by the obvious contradiction.” (Source)
September 5, 2014: It is reported that computer crashes have caused the IRS to lose emails from five more employees who are under investigation by Congress, including two agents who worked in a Cincinnati office processing applications for tax-exempt status. This brings the total number of alleged computer-crash victims tied to the IRS scandal to more than 20. (Source) and (Source)
November 21, 2014: The U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) informs congressional staffers from several committees that up to 30,000 missing emails sent (between 2009-11) by former IRS official Lois Lerner have finally been recovered from among hundreds of “disaster recovery tapes” that were used to back up the IRS email system. “They just said it took them several weeks and some forensic effort to get these emails off these tapes,” said a congressional aide. (Source)
November 27, 2014: The Daily Caller reports: “Now, with 30,000 Lerner emails set to be turned over to Congress, new information is surfacing about the White House-IRS information pipeline.” Specifically, it has been learned that there exist nearly 2,500 documents pertaining to occasions where the IRS improperly disclosed confidential taxpayer information to the White House. (Source)
December 23, 2014: The Washington Times reports that according to a Congressional Oversight Committee report released on December 23, IRS employees who gave extra scrutiny to Tea Party groups’ nonprofit status applications “showed a marked antipathy to the organizations, with one examiner calling a group ‘icky’ and others saying they were searching for ways to deny the requests.” “The staff report,” says the Times, “… also found that IRS officials ‘repeatedly changed their stories’ about what went on and who was responsible for targeting the conservative and tea party groups.” (Source)
May 2016: After spending several months blocking a class-action lawsuit’s efforts to make public the list of conservative and Tea Party organizations it had targeted for increased scrutiny, the IRS finally releases the list in May 2016. According to the Washington Examiner: “The government released names of 426 organizations. Another 40 were not released as part of the list because they had already opted out of being part of the class-action suit. That total is much higher than the 298 groups the IRS‘ inspector general identified back in May 2013, when investigators first revealed the agency had been subjecting applications to long — potentially illegal — delays, and forcing them to answer intrusive questions about their activities. Sixty of the groups on the list … have the word ‘tea’ in their name, 33 have ‘patriot,’ eight refer to the Constitution, and 13 have ‘912’ in their name — which is the monicker of a movement started by conservatives. Another 26 group names refer to ‘liberty,’ though that list does include some groups that are not discernibly conservative in orientation.” (Source)
March 8, 2017: The Internal Revenue Service has located 6,924 documents potentially related to the targeting of Tea Party conservatives, two years after the group Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for them. The watchdog group intended to find records regarding how the IRS selected individuals and organizations for audits that were requesting nonprofit tax status. The agency will not say when it will make the documents available to the public. “At this time, the Service is unable to provide an estimate regarding when it will complete its review of the potentially responsive documents,” the agency said. “The Service will begin producing any non-exempt, responsive documents by March 10, 2017, and, if necessary, continue to produce non-responsive records on a bi-weekly basis.” Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, is calling on President Trump to clean house at the agency. “The corruption at the IRS is astounding,” Fitton said in a statement. “Our attorneys knew that there were more records to be searched but the Obama IRS ignored this issue for years. President Trump needs to clean house at the IRS as quickly as possible.” (Source)
The IRS Harassment Scandal: A Timeline of “Reform”
By The Center for Competitive Politics
The Complete IRS Scandal Timeline in Spreadsheet Format
IRS investigation: Who Knew What, and When
By Darla Cameron, Zachary A. Goldfarb, and Alberto Cuadra
May 21, 2013
Issa Report Slams Dem Collaboration with the IRS
By Arnold Ahlert
April 8, 2014
New Documents Show IRS HQ Control of Tea Party Targeting
By Judicial Watch
May 14, 2014
Justice Department Knew of IRS Scandal 2 Years Before Congress but Did Nothing
By The Daily Signal
July 28, 2016