An explosive new report from conservative watchdog Judicial Watch implicates Sen. John McCain, if indirectly, in the 2013 IRS scandal in which the agency’s Exempt Organizations Unit abused its authority to deny tax-exempt status to conservative and pro-Israel groups.
According to the report, Henry Kerner, McCain’s then-staff director and chief counsel on the Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee, urged top IRS officials — including the now-infamous Lois Lerner — to “audit so many that it becomes financially ruinous.”
The explosive exchange was contained in notes taken by IRS employees at an April 30, 2013, meeting between Kerner, Lerner, and other high-ranking IRS officials. Just ten days following the meeting … Lerner admitted that the IRS had a policy of improperly and deliberately delaying applications for tax-exempt status from conservative non-profit groups.
Lerner and other IRS officials met with select top staffers from the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in a “marathon” meeting to discuss concerns raised by both Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that the IRS was not reining in political advocacy groups in response to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Senator McCain had been the chief sponsor of the McCain-Feingold Act and called the Citizens United decision, which overturned portions of the Act, one of the “worst decisions I have ever seen.” [Emphasis added]
In the full notes of an April 30 meeting, McCain’s high-ranking staffer Kerner recommends harassing non-profit groups until they are unable to continue operating. Kerner tells Lerner, Steve Miller, then chief of staff to IRS commissioner, Nikole Flax, and other IRS officials, “Maybe the solution is to audit so many that it is financially ruinous.” In response, Lerner responded that “it is her job to oversee it all:”
Judicial Watch previously reported on the 2013 meeting. In response at the time, McCain issued a statement assailing “false reports claiming that his office was somehow involved in IRS targeting of conservative groups.” The IRS previously blacked out the notes of the meeting but Judicial Watch found the notes among subsequent documents released by the agency.
In 2015 the Justice Department and FBI investigated the controversy surrounding the IRS. They found “substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia” but “no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt, or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution.” Those findings should be weighed in the light of all the damning information about those agencies that has recently surfaced.
As a sidenote, Henry Kerner was appointed by President Trump as Special Counsel for the United States Office of Special Counsel. In this capacity he accused Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s top advisers, of violating federal law in two TV interviews in 2017 “by using her White House position to weigh in on a political race.”