Now that she’s gone quiet, we can’t know what her defense would be to the ACLJ’s charges. But I can guess.
We now know through her own testimony and from the Inspector General’s report that Lerner was briefed about this unlawful targeting scheme in June 2011. But nine months later, beginning in March 2012, she sent cover letters to many of our clients – demanding additional information and forwarding intrusive questionnaires. In fact, in March and April of 2012, Lerner sent 15 letters to 15 different clients (including those who were approved after lengthy delays and those who are still pending).
This letter dated March 16, 2012 sent to the Ohio Liberty Council is representative of the other letters that Lerner sent to our clients. This letter, posted here, was sent on letterhead out of the IRS office in Cincinnati. The cover letter bears Lerner’s signature, who runs the Exempt Organizations division out of the Washington, DC office. It includes more invasive and improper questions about membership of the group and demands information about all public events conducted or planned for the future. And it specifically requested information about the organization’s website, Facebook page, and other social media outlets…
In addition to the letter sent to the Ohio Liberty Council, our records indicate that Lerner sent 14 other letters to 14 of our clients in the March-April 2012 timeframe. It’s unclear why her name appears on letters to some organizations, and not others. But one thing is clear: this correspondence shows her direct involvement in the scheme. Further, sending a letter from the top person in the IRS Exempt Organizations division to a small Tea Party group also underscores the intimidation used in this targeting ploy.
According to the ACLJ, not only did tea-party groups continue to get intrusive requests after Lerner first found out about the targeting in June 2011, they continued to get requests after May 2012, when the IRS ostensibly changed the criteria for investigating 501(c)(4) groups to something more politically neutral. The latest letter cited by the ACLJ (but not signed by Lerner) was dated … May 6, 2013, just four days before Lerner’s orchestrated public mea culpa on behalf of the agency for targeting conservatives.
What possible defenses could she have to signing the cover letters? An obvious one, and a hallmark of Hopenchange crisis management, is to plead negligence to rebut the charge of intentional wrongdoing. She’ll say yes, she learned about the tea-party targeting in 2011, but she didn’t pay attention to the cover letters and signed them as a batch without scrutinizing the contents whenever her underlings needed her to. The letters to tea-partiers were mixed in with letters to nonpolitical nonprofits and, well, oops! Obama’s spent the past two weeks pleading ignorance of everything that’s going on in his administration as a defense to the IRS scandal, the DOJ’s pursuit of reporters, and even Benghazi. (O never knew about the repeated requests for more security there, he says.) Copping to being a terrible, disengaged manager rather than a willfully corrupt schemer is working out well for him so far. Why wouldn’t it work for Lerner?
The other obvious defense is to claim that the questions asked of tea-party groups in the later correspondence like the March 16, 2012 letter signed by Lerner or the very recent May 6, 2013 letter posted by the ACLJ don’t go beyond what the IRS is allowed to ask of 501(c)(4) groups under normal circumstances. They’re intrusive but, she could argue, they’re not improperly intrusive. Here’s what the IG report cited as questions that crossed the line:
Put Lerner back in front of Issa’s committee with her Fifth Amendment privilege waived and she’ll probably say that, apart from obviously inappropriate inquiries like a demand for donor lists, it’s a fine line between intrusiveness and simply vetting an org to make sure that their activities don’t involve “indirect” participation in campaigns. That defense would have the added benefit of earning her a bit of liberal support: They’ve been after the IRS ever since Citizens United to start scrutinizing 501(c)(4)s more closely. “My only mistake was being too zealous in my quest to make sure that our elections remain untainted by ‘dark money’ exploitation of our tax laws” etc etc, she could say. Which is nice, but still doesn’t answer the question of why conservative groups were singled out. Even if most/all of the questions in the later tea-party letters were “properly” intrusive, did liberal groups get the same questions? How closely were they scrutinized vis-a-vis conservatives?
While we’re on the topic of Citizens United and early targeting of righties, don’t miss Kimberley Strassel’s op-ed in the Journal today. This goes beyond the IRS, and it began before the CU decision that the left keeps using as a pretext. Exit quotation: “If the country wants to get to the bottom of the IRS scandal, it must first remember the context for this abuse. That context leads to this White House.”