We now know that Lois Lerner, the Director of Exempt Organizations for the Internal Revenue Service - who refused to testify before a House committee by invoking the Fifth Amendment - has a paper trail that reveals her direct involvement in sending intrusive and harassing questionnaires to Tea Party groups in 2012.
As you know, we represented 27 Tea Party organizations in 17 states. Of those, 15 received their tax-exempt status after lengthy delays, 10 are still pending, and two clients withdrew their applications because of frustration with the IRS process.
Consider the timeline. 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 testimony before a House committee yesterday, before invoking the Fifth Amendment, Lerner proclaimed her innocence. “I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other committee.”
After making that proclamation, she then refused to answer questions. No questions. Not one. Members of Congress and the American people want to know about her involvement and why this was permitted to continue. Now comes reports that Lerner has been placed on administrative leave and that Representative Issa plans to call her back before the House oversight committee.
It's extremely troubling that it has taken this long for Lerner to be removed from the top exempt position at the IRS. Instead of being placed on administrative leave, she should have been fired.
We're encouraged by Representative Issa's decision to recall her before his committee. There are many questions that Lerner needs to answer - not the least of which is this one: Why did you send letters under your name to Tea Party organizations demanding additional intrusive information in March 2012 - nine months after you were told about this improper scheme and promised to correct it?
The timing of her letters coincide with the appearance of former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman before Congress in March 2012 who testified that no such targeting scheme existed.
It appears Lerner did nothing to stop the abusive conduct. And our evidence suggests she was actively participating in the improper targeting in March 2012. In fact, she appears to have been quite active with her inquisition.
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.
This revelation comes just days after the White House firmly stated that the IRS misconduct ended in May 2012. That assertion is simply wrong. White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters: “The misconduct had stopped in May of 2012.”
The fact is the abuse and harassment continued after May 2012. As we reported, we received 26 IRS questionnaires sent to 18 clients during the past year – letters demanding further intrusive and intimidating questions. In fact, the most recent letter, posted here, was dated May 6, 2013 - just four days before Lerner admitted to the targeting scheme.
We are now finalizing our lawsuit against the IRS which will be filed next week in federal court in Washington, DC. We continue to add plaintiffs to this complaint. We truly believe that suing the IRS is the only way this unlawful abuse will stop and the only way we will find out the role of Lois Lerner and others in this widening scandal.