Politics

Confirmed: Lerner participated in persecution of Tea Party groups

Confirmed: Lerner participated in persecution of Tea Party groups

It seems like only yesterday that IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner was claiming she knew nothing about the dastardly work of those shadowy “low-level employees in the Cincinnati office” – who somehow remain shadowy to this day, despite having been blamed for the worst abuse-of-power scandal in living memory.  The Incompetence Defense beloved of this Administration, and so effective with a media that would never accept it from a Republican official, was deployed with gusto.  Lerner was shocked, shocked, to discover gambling against Tea Party groups going on at Rick’s Tax Exempt Organizations Cafe American.

But now National Review has uncovered documentation proving Lerner was up to her neck in the operation, over nine months after she claims she learned about it:

Lerner, the director of the IRS exempt organizations office in Washington, D.C., signed cover letters to 15 conservative organizations currently represented by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) between in March and April of 2012. The letters, such as this one sent to the Ohio Liberty Council on March 16, 2012, informed the groups applying for tax-exempt status that the IRS was “unable to make a final determination on your exempt status without additional information,” and included a list of detailed questions of the kind that a Treasury inspector general’s audit found to be inappropriate. Some of the groups to which Lerner sent letters are still awaiting approval.

I guess she could try the “What am I signing, Radar?” mutation of the Incompetence Defense, and claim this stuff was shoved under her nose by more of those rogue low-level employees, who tricked her into signing it without reading it.  I’ve been wondering if we might hear that one from Attorney General Eric Holder, too.

The intimidation factor of a top-ranking IRS official’s signature on these letters is huge:

“One thing is clear: this correspondence shows [Lerner’s] direct involvement in the scheme,” wrote Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice. “Further, sending a letter from the top person in the IRS Exempt Organization division to a small Tea Party group also underscores the intimidation used in this targeting ploy.”

Sekulow’s organization has received complaints from conservative organizations who say this abusive behavior continued long after IRS officials claim it was halted, in May 2012.

No wonder Lois Lerner took the Fifth Amendment, instead of testifying!  There’s so much she desperately needs to not talk about.

There’s currently a lively debate over whether Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment privileges by dumping her little “I did nothing wrong” soliloquy on the House Oversight Committee this week.  For what it’s worth, star lawyer Alan Dershowitz thinks she blew it, and Congress can hold her in contempt if she tries it again, when House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) summons her for a return appearance:

“You can’t simply make statements about a subject and then plead the Fifth in response to questions about the very same subject,” the renowned Harvard Law professor said.

“Once you open the door to an area of inquiry, you have waived your Fifth Amendment right . . . you’ve waived your self-incrimination right on that subject matter.”

He said the fact that Lerner went ahead with her proclamation of could be considered malpractice on the part of her attorney — although it’s possible she overruled the advice she received.

“It should never have been allowed. She should have been told by her attorney that the law is clear, that once you open up an area of inquiry for interrogation, you have to respond,” he said.

“Now she may have made a political decision that it’s worth it to take the risk . . . That’s just not the way the law works. It may be the way politics works . . . but she can’t invoke the Fifth.”

As Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said in a statement, capped off with a memorable declaration:

“Like all Americans, government officials have constitutional rights. They also have a duty to the taxpayers to be forthcoming about misconduct in their agencies. If government officials are not cooperating with an investigation of admitted wrongdoing in their agency, they should be immediately suspended from their duties until the investigation is complete. The IRS is free to plead the Fifth. We will continue to plead the First.

Lerner was placed on “administrative leave” Thursday – i.e. time off with full pay.  According to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), she insisted on holding her post, despite being asked to resign:

“My understanding is the new acting IRS commissioner asked for Ms. Lerner’s resignation, and she refused to resign.  She was then put on administrative leave instead,” Grassley stated.  ”The IRS owes it to taxpayers to resolve her situation quickly.  The agency needs to move on to fix the conditions that led to the targeting debacle. She shouldn’t be in limbo indefinitely on the taxpayers’ dime.”

She shouldn’t have her job for one more hour, but at least she’s being kept away from taxpayers while she’s on administrative leave.  It’s too bad America doesn’t have some sort of chief executive who could take charge at a time like this, and step forward to demand Lerner’s resignation more forcefully.

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