House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa and sixteen Committee members are demanding answers from Attorney General Eric Holder after it was revealed last week, through a series of emails, former IRS official Lois Lerner was in contact with the Director of the Election Crimes Branch of the Department of Justice Public Integrity Section Richard Pilger about prosecuting tax exempt groups.
A newly released email obtained by Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Request shows someone instructed Pilger to run the idea of prosecution by Lerner, but it is unclear who the instruction came from.
“When you have a moment, would you call me? I have been asked to run something by you," a May 8, 2013 email from Pilger to Lerner states.
Shortly after Pilger's contact, Lerner forwarded the following email to Nicole Flax, the former chief of staff to former IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who visited the White House 118 times between 2010 and 2011 when the bulk of the IRS targeting of conservatives took place.
"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," Lerner wrote in a May 8, 2013 email.
Flax responded by saying she not only wanted to help, but wanted to rope in the Criminal Division of DOJ.
"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.
In another email more than a month before the exchange with DOJ, Lerner detailed how a single prosecution of just one tax-exempt group would essentially send a chilling affect across all [conservative] groups.
"One IRS prosecution would make an impact and they wouldn’t feel so comfortable doing stuff. So, don’t be fooled about how this is being articulated – it is ALL about 501(c)(4) orgs and political activity," she wrote on March 27, 2013 adding, "There are several groups of folks from the FEC 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."
Just two days after these emails were exchanged between DOJ, Lerner and Flax, news the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative groups surfaced.
"Mr. Pilger’s communications with Ms. Lerner are also striking for their timing. They show that the IRS and the Justice Department were actively considering efforts to target tax-exempt organizations just two days before Ms. Lerner’s public apology for the targeting. This information certainly undermines the sincerity of Ms. Lerner’s apology, but it calls into question your reaction that targeting was “outrageous” and “unacceptable.” These comments ring hollow in light of evidence that your subordinates apparently colluded with the IRS to target nonprofit groups less than a week before. We are severely disappointed in the Department’s apparent contribution to the Administration’s targeting of tax-exempt applicants," a letter sent directly to Holder from Issa and other Committee members states. "This e-mail is shocking on several levels. As an initial matter, this e-mail is further evidence that the Administration’s targeting and inappropriate treatment of conservative tax-exempt applicants was the result of political pressure from prominent Democrats to “fix the problem” posed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Information obtained by the Committee shows that beginning in 2010, the President and congressional Democrats loudly and aggressively criticized the Court’s decision and conservative nonprofit groups that they believed would benefit from it."
"This e-mail makes clear that the Justice Department, like the IRS and the Securities and Exchange Commission, played a role in a government-wide effort to target political speech. Certainly, as is apparent in this e-mail, the Department felt the need to do something in response to Democratic rhetoric against nonprofit political speech. More unbelievably, this e-mail also suggests that the Department actually considered prosecuting nonprofit groups for their political activities. Even more astounding, the Department considered prosecuting these groups for actions that are legal for 501(c)(4) nonprofits under federal tax law – that is, engaging in political speech. The Department’s use of alleged false statement on the tax-exempt application is an unfortunate instance of prosecutorial “gotcha,” targeting these victims for supposed “lies” about activities that they are legally allowed to do. In this way, the tactics suggested by Mr. Pilger appear to be nothing more than harassment by the Justice Department of groups engaged in otherwise lawful activity."
Issa and members are demanding to know who at DOJ gave the instructions to ask the IRS to look into prosecutions and asking for documentation surrounding the communication. The Committee is also asking for Pilger to be available for a transcribed interview.
All documents and communications referring or relating to 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations or applicants for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status for the period January 1, 2009, through the present.
All documents and communications between or among Lois Lerner and employees of the Department of Justice for the period January 1, 2009, through the present.
All documents and communications referring or relating to the potential prosecution of tax-exempt organizations for alleged false statements made on Internal Revenue Service forms for the period January 1, 2009, through the present.
Documentation must be produced by DOJ by May 5, 2014.