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