How to investigate the IRS

Thus far, senior IRS officials in office when the abuses began have often provided untruthful answers, first by telling Congress in 2012 that the IRS wasn’t targeting President Obama’s ideological opponents and more recently by suggesting that low-level employees were to blame. Sometimes they’ve been unwilling to provide any answers at all, such as when Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS unit overseeing tax-exempt organizations, asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege to avoid self-incrimination, but not before proclaiming her innocence at a congressional hearing.

In the civil lawsuits, government defendants will still enjoy their Fifth Amendment rights, but the truth may come out anyway. Ms. Mitchell notes that “civil discovery is much broader and doesn’t allow for as much opportunity to refuse to answer. There’s a magistrate who is appointed to oversee” and resolve disputes on specific questions. And if a person is forced to answer a question during a deposition, “the perjury statutes apply.”

But even if officials find ways to remain silent, they might not be able to contain the relevant information. Ms. Mitchell adds that “we are most interested in seeing documents,” and that includes emails. Such documents have hardly been examined, because while the IRS’s internal audit recently forced the agency to acknowledge abuses it had previously denied, the inquiry consisted mainly of interviews of staff with a supervisor present.

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