It’s becoming pretty final, for those who still had a question in their minds, that the Obama administration is riven with corruption.
The administration doesn’t really even take the trouble to hide it anymore. Perhaps releasing this announcement on a Friday afternoon indicates that the administration is at least still trying to minimize notoriety in the news cycle. (See Howard Portnoy’s treatment here.)
The Justice Department, it seems, has decided not to bring any charges against Lois Lerner, the face of IRS misconduct against the large category of “taxpayers who probably didn’t vote for Obama.”
The IRS did mishandle tea party and conservative groups’ nonprofit applications, but their behavior didn’t break any laws, the Justice Department said in a letter to Congress Friday that cleared the tax agency and former senior executive Lois G. Lerner of any crimes.
“Ineffective management is not a crime,” Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik said in a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee. “The Department of Justice’s exhaustive probe revealed no evidence that would support a criminal prosecution. What occurred is disquieting and may necessitate corrective action — but it does not warrant criminal prosecution.”
The “ineffective management” in question would be a crime if you or I perpetrated it. But not Lois Lerner or the IRS – and especially not when the “investigator” was the U.S. Justice Department, which participated in the law-breaking.
In 2010, for example, Lerner’s office sent the FBI a database of taxpayer information on virtually all the 501(c)(4) groups in the country. According to emails reviewed by the House of Representatives in 2014, this was in preparation for a discussion between the two agencies of how to prosecute non-profits under campaign-finance laws.
It was a fishing expedition between the IRS and DOJ, and as such, was against the law. We might say it was double-plus against the law, because the email exchange reviewed by House staffers revealed an IRS employee saying “we don’t have the law to do something” – i.e., to prosecute 501(c)(4)s.
In other words, there’s no law that says the 501(c)(4)s couldn’t do what they were doing. So the IRS improperly sent their taxpayer information to the FBI, apparently hoping the FBI could find something to nail them on.
The interagency discussions didn’t end in 2010. In 2013, with the House probe of Lerner and her minions well underway, the IRS contacted DOJ again about finding a way to prosecute non-profits for their legal activity.
In an LU Staff write-up in July 2015 (based on a major document dump reported by Judicial Watch), we outlined the extent of this IRS-DOJ collusion – and we also highlighted that DOJ asked IRS for advance copies of congressional testimony, and documents to be turned over to Congress by IRS witnesses in the House hearings. The DOJ employee sending the request email stressed that his office was “6103 authorized,” meaning that under the IRS code, it would be OK to forward even confidential taxpayer information to the office. The DOJ employee specifically asked for “unredacted” documentation.
But that “6103 authorization” is not open-ended. There has to be a relevant, lawful purpose for the IRS to reveal confidential taxpayer information to another federal agency. (In fact, the IRS withheld such information from Congress during the hearings, as was perfectly correct.)
Making sure the DOJ knows in advance what IRS witnesses are going to say in a congressional hearing pretty much doesn’t, under any circumstances, justify releasing confidential taxpayer information to DOJ.
This same DOJ is the one that was charged with “investigating” Lerner and the IRS.
A couple of other refreshers on the IRS’s “ineffective management” of confidential taxpayer information:
– In 2009 and 2010, Lerner’s office improperly forwarded taxpayer information on conservative non-profit groups to the Federal Election Commission. The FEC is entitled to know what the IRS status of a non-profit is, but it is not entitled to the non-profit’s confidential taxpayer information.
– In 2012, Lerner’s office improperly solicited donor lists from non-profits, 75% of which were conservative organizations, and 5% of which were “liberal” or progressive. These lists – lists of names of people and organizations that donated money – were used in what was called by the IRS a “secret research project.”
The nature of the project is indicated by the section of the code referred to in the email about it on 27 June 2012: section 6104. This section is about the “publicity” of tax-exempt organizations’ information, including the names of donors to non-profit groups. (The same email makes it clear there was at least one IRS official who recognized how wrong all this was. It wasn’t Lerner.)
– In 2012 and 2013, the IRS provided taxpayer information on the electoral watchdog group True the Vote to Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), in contravention of federal law.
In the last several years, the mainstream media have focused almost exclusively on the controversy surrounding Lerner’s email saga. And there’s been plenty of evidence of skullduggery there, including Lerner telling IRS employees outright that they needed to make sure Congress couldn’t read their communications later, and Lerner all but admitting that her unique and remarkably convenient “loss” of thousands of emails was a cover-up.
But the real issue was always that Lerner, and the IRS office she headed, misused their authority and the confidential information of taxpayers. The email controversy is almost a red herring, in fact – and so are specific allegations about who was targeted. Those aspects of the case have evidentiary as well as political value. But Congress demanded an investigation because of evidence that IRS officials abused the public trust — by breaking the law.
DOJ officials colluded in that abuse. Now the same DOJ that colluded with the IRS has acquitted the IRS, and Lerner, of wrongdoing. Congratulations to the USA: we really are a banana republic now. Hail “justice.”