A Washington watchdog that has been fighting for the public’s right to know the who, what, when, where and why of the IRS campaign to badger and bully tea-party and other conservative groups about the time they wanted to oppose Barack Obama’s re-election bid in 2012 is going back into court to try to unseal whatever explanation may or may not have come from Lois Lerner, who headed the tax-exempt division of the IRS then.
Judicial Watch confirmed Monday it has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in another case in which the depositions of Lerner and her aide, Holly Paz, were targeted.
“Both played key roles in the targeting of conservative nonprofit groups opposed to Obama policies in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election,” Judicial Watch explained.
That’s a class-action lawsuit demanding that the public be given access to the depositions from Lerner and Paz, who both answered a number of still-unknown questions about how the program began, who ordered it to happen, and why.
“The depositions were sealed by a federal judge after Lerner’s and Paz’s lawyers claimed the two were receiving threats,” the watchdog group said.
But its brief argues that the documents sought may shed light on government misconduct, and the shielding of internal government deliberations does not serve the public’s interest.
Judicial Watch also explained the depositions may significantly impact ongoing Judicial Watch lawsuits seeking information about misconduct of government officials in the IRS targeting scandal.
The organization has been involved in dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests about the issue – the willful attacks on the constitutional rights of conservative and tea-party groups – and it has filed at least nine lawsuits over the dispute.
“In a republic, citizens have a right to know what their government is up to, especially when officials abuse the powers entrusted to them,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “This effort to seal Lois Lerner and Holly Paz depositions for all time is affront to the rule of law and government accountability.”
Judicial Watch has obtained information from its hunt for the truth that has led to a variety of additional actions, including various investigations of the IRS, and a review of how and why the IRS failed to preserve thousands of emails that potentially were relevant to various investigations.
The government has admitted that its attacks on conservative groups were “wrong” and “for such treatment, the IRS expresses its sincere apology,” Judicial Watch reported.
But it still is concealing from the public the information from Lerner and Paz, including their depositions and emails.
The background is this, according to the organization: “Lerner was actively engaged in the attempted cover-up of IRS misconduct. In July 2016, Judicial Watch revealed that both Lerner and Paz knew the agency was specifically targeting ‘tea party’ and other conservative organizations two full years before disclosing it to Congress and the public. They also knew donor lists of tax-exempt organizations were being used to target those donors for audits.”
The immediate response was denial, but Judicial Watch eventually forced the agency to admit it had used “inappropriate political labels” to screen applications of organizations seeking tax-exempt status.
By refusing to cooperate and process those applications in a timely fashion, the IRS could kill off organizations that opposed Obama’s agenda and likely would have not been supportive of his re-election bid.
For example, Judicial Watch brought to light that the IRS was going to require some applicants to restrict their alleged political activities.
The group reported: “In April 2015, Judicial Watch released court ordered IRS documents that included an email from Lerner asking that a program be set up to ‘put together some training points to help them [IRS staffers] understand the potential pitfalls’ of revealing too much information to Congress. The documents also contain a Lerner email from 2013 in which she says she is willing to take the blame on some aspects of the scandal. She also indicates that she ‘understands why the IRS criteria’ leading to the targeting of tea party and other opponents of the President Obama ‘might raise questions.’”
The dispute already has seen Judicial Watch exposing a variety of IRS record keeping inconsistencies, erroneous claims and failures to product court-required records.
Explained the filing: “Judicial Watch’s interest in unsealing and making Ms. Lerner’s and Ms. Paz’s testimony public is twofold. First, as an organization whose mission is to promote transparency and accountability in government, Judicial Watch believes release of the testimony is in the public interest. Second, as a litigant continuing to battle the IRS for records about the agency’s targeting of organizations based on their political views, the depositions may prove crucial to Judicial Watch’s ability to challenge the IRS’s deliberative process exemption claims.”
At that time, several individuals and groups that were victimized by the IRS tax-exempt organizations division run by Lerner called for the reopening of a criminal investigation into her activities.
The Washington Examiner reported at the time Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., called Monday for the Department of Justice to review whether or not it should prosecute Lerner.
He’s chairman of the oversight subcommittee responsible for the IRS.
“Lerner betrayed the nation’s trust yet managed to avoid prosecution,” Buchanan said. “Heads should roll and people should be held accountable for this gross abuse of power.”
Leesa Donner of the Liberty Nation blog, one of the targeted groups, commented.
“It seems that IRS Senior Executive Lois G. Lerner is in the crosshairs again,” Donner wrote.
“And for many who have been persecuted by the most powerful agency of the most powerful government in the world – this comes not a moment too soon.”
The attack on conservative groups became apparent early in 2012 when ACLJ was contacted by “literally dozens of tea party and conservative groups who were being harassed by the Obama IRS after submitting applications for tax-exempt status.”
While Lerner publicly admitted the targeting campaign was going on, no action was taken against her, and she ultimately left the government on a retirement plan while lawsuits were under way.
The IRS used tactics such as demanding donor lists, copies of communications, Internet passwords, and personal political and charitable activities of officers and their family members.
In one case, the IRS demanded to know the subject of group members’ prayers. And in another, the IRS demanded that members stop opposing the Planned Parenthood abortion industry.
The Obama administration had claimed the scandal was “phony.”