Via Katie Pavlich, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has had a bad week. Thanks to his efforts to obstruct a Congressional investigation into the targeting of conservative groups seeking tax exempt status, House Republicans have demanded his dismissal by Barack Obama, and have threatened to impeach Koskinen if Obama does nothing. On top of that, a federal judge yesterday got fed up with the IRS’ attempts to obstruct a FOIA demand that he threatened to haul Koskinen into court in order to charge him with contempt.
It might be a bad week for the IRS’ attorneys, too:
During the a status hearing today, Sullivan warned that the failure to follow his order was serious and the IRS and Justice Department’s excuses for not following his July 1 order were “indefensible, ridiculous, and absurd.” He asked the IRS’ Justice Department lawyer Geoffrey Klimas, “Why didn’t the IRS comply” with his court order and “why shouldn’t the Court hold the Commissioner of the IRS in contempt.” Judge Sullivan referenced his contempt findings against Justice Department prosecutors in the prosecution of late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and reminded the Justice Department attorney he had the ability to detain him for contempt. Warning he would tolerate no further disregard of his orders, Judge Sullivan said, “I will haul into court the IRS Commissioner to hold him personally in contempt.”
After the hearing, Judge Sullivan issued the following “minute order”:
At the July 29, 2015 status hearing, the Government agreed that the Court’s July 1, 2015 oral order from the bench was clear and enforceable. Nonetheless, the Government reasoned it inappropriate to file a motion for reconsideration until a written order was issued. As expressed at the hearing, the Government’s reasoning is nonsensical. Officers of the Court who fail to comply with Court orders will be held in contempt. Also, in the event of non-compliance with future Court orders, the Commissioner of the IRS and others shall be directed to show cause as to why they should not be held in contempt of Court. The Court’s July 1, 2015 ruling from the bench stands: (1) the Government shall produce relevant documents every Monday; (2) the Government’s document production shall be accompanied by a status report that indicates (a) whether TIGTA has turned over any new documents to the IRS, (b) if so, the number of documents, and (c) a timeframe for the IRSs production of those documents. Signed by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan on July 29, 2015.
At a July 1, 2015, status conference, Sullivan ordered the IRS to begin producing, every week, the nearly 1,800 newly recovered Lerner emails responsive to Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Despite the court order, the IRS did not produce any Lerner emails until July 15. The IRS also failed to provide Judicial Watch a status report of the Lerner email production issues, as also ordered by Sullivan. Last week, Judge Sullivan ordered sua sponte the parties to appear for a status hearing today after Judicial Watch raised concerns about the IRS’ failure to comply with his orders to release the newly discovered Lerner emails and status updates on its production of previously “missing” documents.
On Tuesday, the IRS finally got around to releasing some of the Lois Lerner e-mails that it had previously insisted could not be produced. Judicial Watch argues that these e-mails show not only an awareness of the implications of their targeting, but an abuse of the process to extend the delays in processing applications from conservative groups:
The documents show that Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner, sent a November 3, 2011, email documenting her concerns about the failure to process applications in a timely manner:
I’m getting a little nervous about the amount we have on our plate and how we are handling. I know everyone is working hard and juggling, but I am wondering whether the juggling decisions are being made holistically enough. We have only so many resources and things will probably get worse going forward. I worry that decisions about how to use the resources are being made without all the information…Something that may not seem important in Cincinnati, may be crucial in DC. Similarly, DC may be prioritizing its work based on what is sitting in DC when something sitting in Cincinnati should be the focus of DC work.
IRS Program Manager Cindy Thomas of the Cincinnati Exempt Organization office replied to Lerner a few hours later with an email detailing the pressure caused by the IRS’ Washington headquarters failure to move on the “advocacy cases.” Thomas warned of litigation and admitted that she authorized a letter for more information that was sent to one of the complaining groups to keep it from contacting Congress:
The backlog of work involves advocacy organizations. As of about a month ago, there were 161 of these cases sitting idle and we probably have more by now. The control dates for these cases go back to the end of 2009 and all through 2010. We’ve been waiting for EO in D.C. to get us a guidance/reference document with lessons learned from the c4 and c3 cases they worked and coordinated with Judy Kindell and Counsel. We’re getting calls from POAs wanting to know who has put the halt on working these cases and threatening to contact their Congressional offices. Just today, I instructed one of my managers to get an additional information letter out to one of these organizations — if nothing else to buy time so he didn’t contact his Congressional Office. Soon, we’re going to start getting TAO’s [Taxpayer Assistance Orders] from TAS [Taxpayer Advocate Service] or declaratory judgment cases filed —- then, I guess everyone will decide its time to start moving the cases when we have mounds of additional paperwork to process along with the cases (adding even more work for us to do).
Another IRS lawyer responded to Lerner’s email with an admission that IRS’ D.C. headquarters legal staff had hundreds of cases backlogged. Michael Seto, who headed the Exempt Organization Technical Unit, acknowledged to Lerner on November 9, 2011, that there were 446 application cases open beginning of fiscal year 2012, with many open for more than two years.
The emails also show that Lerner and other top officials of the IRS were aware of complaints about treatment by Tea Party groups. In response to a February 2012 complaint and request for briefing from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about, according to the IRS, a Tea Party an organization that applied for exemption about 18 months previously and only “just recently” heard anything about the status of its application: “When it did finally hear from us, we [the IRS] apparently asked some fairly detailed questions and gave the organization a short deadline to respond.”
Would a contempt citation in this case prompt Obama to fire Koskinen? It might convince Koskinen that he has better things to do with his time and resign on his own. Those are apparently the only two options Koskinen has left to consider, since he seems in no hurry to cooperate with Congressional oversight or a court order. Don’t be surprised if the latter happens, and sooner rather than later.