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Dept. Of Justice Declines To Charge Lois Lerner In Connection With I.R.S. Targeting Scandal

Lois Lerner

Lois Lerner, the former Internal Revenue Service official who was at the heart of the investigation of the scandal that was erupted after it was revealed that agency employees were apparently targeting conservative organizations who were applying for a tax exemption in the early years of the Obama Administration, will not be prosecuted by the Trump Justice Department:

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Friday it won’t charge a key IRS figure in the mistreatment of conservative political groups during the 2010 and 2012 elections.

In a letter to members of Congress, the Justice Department said that “reopening the criminal investigation would not be appropriate based on the available evidence.”

Republican leaders on the House Ways and Means Committee had hoped the Justice Department would reopen its case against ex-IRS official Lois Lerner now that Republican Donald Trump is in the White House and Attorney General Jeff Sessions runs the department.

They were disappointed in the department’s response. “This is a terrible decision,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the Ways and Means Committee chairman. “It sends the message that the same legal, ethical, and constitutional standards we all live by do not apply to Washington political appointees.”

Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt groups. An inspector general’s report in 2013 found that the IRS had singled out conservative and tea party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. Many had their applications delayed for months and years. Some were asked improper questions about their donors and even their religious practices.

 Brady said appointees “will now have the green light to target Americans for their political beliefs and mislead investigators without ever being held accountable for their lawlessness.”

Much of the agency’s leadership, including Lerner, resigned or retired over the scandal.

Lerner and her attorney have long maintained she did nothing wrong. “The real scandal here is that people who knew better kept saying Ms. Lerner did something wrong. She did not,” Lerner’s lawyer, William W. Taylor, said in an email. “Today’s announcement does no more than reaffirm that truth.”

In 2014, the Ways and Means Committee voted to refer Lerner to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. Republicans on the committee said she may have violated the constitutional rights of conservative groups, misled investigators and risked exposing confidential taxpayer information.

Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department announced in 2015 that no one at the IRS would be prosecuted in the scandal, saying investigators had “found no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution.”

Not surprisingly, the DOJ’s decision has outraged many Republican Members of Congress as were conservative media outlets and commentators on Twitter and other social media sites. While not exactly outraged per se, Jazz Shaw is also skeptical about the decision:

Maybe it’s just me, but at least one of the allegations seems like it wouldn’t be that tough to prove. I’ll grant you that definitively proving bias while sorting through applications for tax-exempt status might be tough, and even the question of “making misleading statements” to investigators (as opposed to outright perjury) could be a close call. But if private taxpayer information was showing up in her personal email account then that should be a fairly clear cut case. Then again, looking at what happened to Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin (i.e. nothing) after tons of government communications wound up mixed in with the Carlos Danger Young Adult Entertainment Library, what do I know?

Notwithstanding the fact that the Justice Department is now controlled by the Republican Party rather than Democrats, this decision isn’t entirely surprising. Despite a long investigation by the relevant Congressional committees, there was never any proof produced that the slow approval process at the I.R.S.’s Cincinnati office where these applications were processed was part of some overriding policy to harass conservative groups, or that the phenomenon went anywhere beyond the office in Cincinnati. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the conservative groups whose applications were delayed while they were subjected to arguably inappropriate questions to “justify” their claim to qualify for tax exempt status had their applications denied, or that they were damaged in any quantifiable way by the fact that their application was delayed for a longer period of time than normal. Given that, and taking into account the fact that prosecutors are generally required by legal ethics to believe in good faith that they can prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before charging them with a crime, it’s not surprising that the Justice Department has decided again not to seek criminal charges against Lerner or anyone else involved in the targeting scandal. On a final note, the fact that the matter apparently wasn’t even submitted to a Grand Jury indicates strongly that the career prosecutors at the Department of Justice who would ultimately make the recommendation on prosecution to either Attorney General Sessions or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein indicates that they didn’t even believe there was probable cause to believe a crime had been committed, never mind whether or not any such crime could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

This isn’t the first time that the Justice Department has declined to seek charges against Lerner, of course. In April 2015, the Obama Justice Department announced that it would not be prosecuting Lerner for contempt of Congress due to the fact that she had properly invoked her right against self-incrimination before the House Government Oversight Committee.  Republicans on the committee claimed that Lerner waived her rights because she had given an opening statement at the hearing in which, in general, and rather vague terms, she denied and wrongdoing. As I said at the time, this argument was incredibly weak , and that to the extent there was any doubt it should be resolved in favor of the argument that she had not waived her rights. Nonetheless, several days after Lerner testified, the Committee voted on purely partisan lines that Lerner had waived her rights and then moved forward with a process that seemed designed to force her to testify. Despite several reports that Lerner would testify if granted immunity, the Committee eventually voted to hold Lerner in contempt nearly a year after her original testimony. After the Justice Department declined to prosecute on the contempt charges, the committee could have attempted to prosecute her for civil contempt of Congress but never made any moves toward attempting to do that. Instead, the matter was quietly dropped and investigations ended after President Obama left office.

Effectively, of course, all of this means that the entire investigation into the I.R.S. targeting scandal is over. As noted above, all of the people involved in the targeting, including Lerner and all of the people who worked on the applications at the Cincinnati office, were either fired or resigned their positions. Additionally, the agency itself has gone through at least two Commissioners in the intervening time, so there doesn’t seem to be anyone left at the agency who was directly involved in what happened prior to the 2012 election. Given that, we can close the books on this story just as we’ve closed the books on the Fast & Furious story, Benghazi, and Hillary Clinton’s emails. Four alleged scandals during the Obama Administration, all of which amounted to nothing.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Brady said appointees “will now have the green light to target Americans for their political beliefs and mislead investigators without ever being held accountable for their lawlessness.”

    That’s what trump is counting on you for.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  2. teve tory says:

    Not surprisingly, the DOJ’s decision has outraged many Republican Members of Congress as were conservative media outlets and commentators on Twitter and other social media sites.

    you aint kiddin. here’s breitbart:

    Jeff Sessions’ DoJ Will Not Investigate IRS Suppression of Tea Party Groups

    Republicans slammed the Friday announcement by President Donald Trump’s justice department that it will not investigate the official who allegedly oversaw the IRS’ secret sabotage of Americans’ civic groups before the 2012 election.
    “This is a terrible decision,” said a statement from Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees taxes and the IRS. His statement continued:

    It sends the message that the same legal, ethical, and Constitutional standards we all live by do not apply to Washington political appointees – who will now have the green light to target Americans for their political beliefs and mislead investigators without ever being held accountable for their lawlessness. Not only has the Department of Justice chosen not to hold [IRS manager] Lois Lerner criminally liable for obstructing an official investigation by the Inspector General, the Department continues to defend the Internal Revenue Service’s unconstitutional actions against taxpayers in ongoing civil litigation.

    “The decision not to prosecute Lois Lerner is a miscarriage of justice,” said an accompanying statement from the chairman of the tax policy subcommittee, Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam. He continued:

    On top of Ms. Lerner’s actions against taxpayers – denying tax-exempt status to groups for political gain and failing to protect taxpayer information – the Department’s response blatantly ignores our most troubling finding: that Ms. Lerner intentionally misled federal investigators in a flagrant violation of the law. This is unacceptable and Ms. Lerner must be held accountable. Our democracy is injured when those who taxpayers entrust with great authority ignore the law to advance their own political agenda without repercussion.”

    Tom Fitton, head of the Watchdog law firm Judicial Watch, joined the criticism, saying:

    etc etc

    comments are even smarter, of course.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. Paul L. says:

    Despite a long investigation by the relevant Congressional committees, there was never any proof produced that the slow approval process at the I.R.S.’s Cincinnati office where these applications were processed was part of some overriding policy to harass conservative groups, or that the phenomenon went anywhere beyond the office in Cincinnati.

    Maybe because the IRS has being stonewalling the release and destroyed the evidence.
    Looks like the DOJ is waiting on the results of civil cases against the IRS.

    Like the case of True the Vote which Doug celebrated the dismissal of and ignored when the appeals court reinstated it.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 25

  4. Gustopher says:

    Political organizations shouldn’t be tax exempt. The only scandal here is that the IRS granted tax exempt status to so many obviously political organizations.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 0

  5. gVOR08 says:

    So once again it’s been shown that the conservative outrage machine created a huge scandal out of next to nothing, ruining careers and lives in the process. Will conservatives learn and be more careful before launching their next witch hunt? Will anyone apologize to Ms. Lerner? Will the MSM learn to be less credulous when the next witch hunt comes around? Will the general public learn that conservatives lie? Somedays I just crack myself up.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 2

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    You know, dude, when Jess Sessions dismisses your conspiracy theory it’s time to start asking yourself just how far out on the fringe you want to be.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 40 Thumb down 0

  7. Mister Bluster says:

    Maybe because the IRS has being stonewalling the release and destroyed the evidence.

    …or maybe not…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  8. Hal_10000 says:

    Four alleged scandals during the Obama Administration, all of which amounted to nothing.

    Four that were worth investigating, certainly. But all four produced no evidence of criminal wrong-doing. Even Whitewater produced a slew of convictions. This means that Obama will end up being one of the most scandal-free Presidents in recent history (an admittedly low bar).

    Quite a plunge to his successor, who is shaping up to the most corrupt since Harding and arguably since the founding of the Republic.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 2

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mister Bluster: Maybe Paul L is an idiot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  10. Tyrell says:

    The Department of Justice needs to investigate IRS concerning the scandalous telephone wait times. Two – three hour waits to talk to someone to get help are common.
    It is now time for tax reform. A simpler post card size tax return and maybe a flat tax. A person should not have to be a math whiz or a Harvard MBA to be able to fill out their own taxes. April 15 is the worse day for many Americans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 13

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tyrell: The Department of Justice needs to investigate IRS concerning the scandalous telephone wait times.

    And while they are at it, they should investigate google, yahoo, microsoft, apple, my satellite service, my trash haulers, my truck service technicians, AAA,* etc etc because I can’t get a human being anywhere.

    *actually, AAA is pretty good.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  12. @Hal_10000:

    Yes, they were worth investigating, as I said at the time each of them broke. Once it was clear that there was nothing to pursue, though, it was time to give up the ghost.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  13. Kylopod says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You know, dude, when Jess Sessions dismisses your conspiracy theory it’s time to start asking yourself just how far out on the fringe you want to be.

    I get deja vu because it brings me back to the days when the Clintons’ murder of Vince Foster was being covered up by Kenneth Starr.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  14. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Tyrell: TurboTax and H & R Block online are more than capable of filing annual returns for the majority of low income and middle income Americans that will have a neglible risk of audit and require no understanding of tax accounting or tax law.

    Pretty much anyone who *needs* a CPA or Enrolled Agent to do their taxes can afford one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  15. Lit3Bolt says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Guys, time to stop trusting Michael Reynolds. He’s clearly been brainwashed by the Chem-trail G-men.

    Next he’ll be advocating the utilization of fire and the wearing of clothes. But this is one ultra-conservative who won’t take your RINO bait!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  16. Facebones says:

    Given that, we can close the books on this story just as we’ve closed the books on the Fast & Furious story, Benghazi, and Hillary Clinton’s emails. Four alleged scandals during the Obama Administration, all of which amounted to nothing.

    Couple things:

    1) Right wing grievance media never closes the book on anything, ever. This IRS keyword search “scandal” happened 7 years ago.

    2) “Amounted to nothing” is clearly incorrect, as the obsessive coverage of the email “scandal” had the effect of keeping Hillary out of the White House.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Facebones:

    2) “Amounted to nothing” is clearly incorrect, as the obsessive coverage of the email “scandal” had the effect of keeping Hillary out of the White House.

    As intended, and don’t forget the 17 committee investigations into Benghazi all of which came to the same result: “Nothing to see here.” But the GOP managed to make it into the BIGGEST SCANDAL EVER!!! by merely keeping it in the news.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  18. al-Ameda says:

    @Paul L.:

    Maybe because the IRS has being stonewalling the release and destroyed the evidence.
    Looks like the DOJ is waiting on the results of civil cases against the IRS.

    Like the case of True the Vote which Doug celebrated the dismissal of and ignored when the appeals court reinstated it.

    Looks like there’s never enough Kool-Aid in the fridge to satisfy you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  19. teve tory says:

    Maybe because the IRS has being stonewalling the release and destroyed the evidence.

    The evidence sealed by the Warren Commission proves that Lois Lerner was on the grassy knoll on 11/22/63.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. teve tory says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    Guys, time to stop trusting Michael Reynolds. He’s clearly been brainwashed by the Chem-trail G-men.

    Next he’ll be advocating the utilization of fire and the wearing of clothes. But this is one ultra-conservative who won’t take your RINO bait!

    No! Ugg say Lit3bolt use big word! Lit3bolt is CINO*! Ugg smash Lit3bolt and take woman! Vote Ugg!

    *Caveman in Name Only

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. michael reynolds says:

    The real question for me is: how high was I to type ‘Jess?’ I just checked my keyboard and the ‘s’ is separated from ‘f’ by an entire ‘d.’

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. Mister Bluster says:

    @michael reynolds:..The real question for me is:..

    That may be your question.
    The real question for me is how advanced is my septuagenarian brain rot that even after several reviews of your Saturday, September 9, 2017 at 17:06 post on this thread I never noticed the error until you pointed it out today.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. gVOR08 says:

    @Tyrell: The 1040EZ is post card size.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @teve tory: And here I thought the “C” stood for “conservative.” Who knew?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: I tried a Google image search for “Jess Sessions” so I could link you an amusing picture of someone named Jess Sessions but all Google gave me was pictures of Jeff Sessions.

    So you must not be the first person to have done that…haha…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. teve tory says:

    Conservative/Caveman, the distinction is without difference 😀

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Tyrell says:

    @teve tory: She would have been 13 years old in 1963; too young to have been involved in all of that.
    I do agree that many documents and files are and will remain classified for decades to come:
    Assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin L. King Jr.
    The Booth conspiracy and the military trial records: an illegal trial of civilians by the military, in which defendants were not allowed to testify.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  28. al-Ameda says:

    @Mikey:

    : I tried a Google image search for “Jess Sessions” so I could link you an amusing picture of someone named Jess Sessions but all Google gave me was pictures of Jeff Sessions.
    So you must not be the first person to have done that…haha…

    I can’t speak for all Democrats but I certainly prefer Jess Sessions over Jeff Sessions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0