SEPTEMBER 05, 2014
IRS Had “Secret Research Project” For Conservative Donor Lists
Judicial Watch continues to blow the lid off of the Obama administration’s increasingly feeble attempts to cover up its deliberate targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election. And the latest batch of emails JW has obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit portrays an agency potentially willing to go to any lengths to bring down the president’s political opponents – including misusing the private, confidential information of those who dared contribute to the groups the IRS had targeted.
But, we really shouldn’t be surprised, should we? This is an administration whose chief executive has repeatedly acted as if he is above the law. All he needs to govern, he claims, is “a pen and a phone.” His IRS agency, it turns out, has put both to extensive use in harassing and hamstringing conservative organizations – and, perhaps, even individuals it thought might have had a negative impact the president’s efforts to retain office in 2012.
On September 4, we released a new batch of IRS email documents revealing that under former IRS official Lois Lerner, the agency seems to acknowledge having needlessly solicited donor lists from non-profit political groups. According to a May 21, 2012, memo from the IRS Deputy Associate Chief Counsel: “such information was not needed across-the-board and not used in making the agency’s determination on exempt status.” Outrageously, it wasn’t until one year later, on May 10, 2013, that Lerner finally conceded that the requests for donor names were “not appropriate, not usual.” (These remarks by Lerner were staged and were the first IRS admission of its improper targeting of Obama’s perceived enemies.)
Not surprisingly, the new documents JW obtained also reveal that 75% of the groups from which the lists were solicited were apparently conservative, with only 5% being liberal. So, Lerner and her IRS collaborators knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the donor lists they had wrongly solicited would be filled with the names of those who had opposed the Obama policies.
These new smoking gun documents came in response to a court order from our October 2013 FOIA lawsuit (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Internal Revenue Service (No. 1:13-cv-01559)) filed against the IRS after the agency unlawfully refused to respond to four FOIA requests dating back to May 2013. The emails are contained in the sixth batch of documents the IRS has been forced to produce in response to the Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit.
This lawsuit, month after month, continues to be the best vehicle for getting to the truth about the massive Obama IRS abuse scandal. As FOX Business’ Lou Dobbs said in assessing the IRS scandal in late August, “Who is lying to whom? We would know a lot less about the IRS scandal were it not for the work of the watchdog group Judicial Watch.”
Sure enough, these latest emails are treasure trove for truth-seekers about this Nixonian scandal. Contained in the newly released IRS documents is an email from Deputy Associate Chief Counsel Margo L. Stevens that was sent in response to a question from Lerner concerning attempts to return donor lists the IRS had inappropriately obtained. In Stevens’ May 21, 2012, email to Lerner, she wrote:
Lois, I wanted to get back with you with respect to your question whether TEGE [Tax Exempt & Government Entities] could return to those organizations from whom donor names were solicited in questionnaires following their submission of applications for recognition of their tax exempt status (under 501(c)(4)), now that TEGE has reviewed those files and determined that such information was not needed across-the-board and not used in making the agency’s determination on exempt status.
But these donor lists were “used,” as a subsequent IRS email thread on June 27, 2012, revealed that inappropriately obtained donor lists were being used for a “secret research project” and that a top official wanted then-Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller to decide how to handle the issue. The email exchange, with the subject line “donor names,” included the following:
- June 27, 2012: 8:59 AM — David L. Fish, IRS acting director of Exempt Organizations Rulings and Agreements,to Holly Paz:
Joseph Urban [IRS Technical Advisor, Tax Exempt and Government Entities] had actually started a secret research project on whether we could, consistent with 6104, argue that [REDACTED] Joe was quite agitated yesterday when I told him what we were doing. (He was involved when the initial question was raised, but we didn’t continue reading him in). At one point he started saying that this was a decision for Steve Miller–I told him we were already doing it, and that I didn’t know whether Lois had already talked to Nikole [former IRS Chief of Staff to IRS Commissioner Steve Miller] about this. Would not be surprised if he already started working on Lois.
- June 27, 2012 9:02 AM — Holly Paz to David L. Fish:
Thanks for the heads up. The decision was made by Steve, based on advice from P and A. [Procedure and Administration]
Nor should anyone think that Lerner’s belated concerns about how to handle the donor lists obtained contrary to law came as an act of contrition. Her concerns, along with those of other IRS officials, came only after they had received an email from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) in late March 2012 advising them of “an audit we plan to conduct of the IRS’s process for reviewing applications for tax exemption by potential section 501(c)(4), 501(c)(5), and 501(c)(6) organizations.” The documents produced, by the way, do not detail the “secret research project,” nor disclose how the IRS used the donor names the agency improperly obtained.
You may recall that then-IRS Commissioner Miller initially testified to Congress on May 17, 2013, that “instructions had been given to destroy any donor lists.” But donor lists were actually produced to the House Ways and Means Committee four months later.
In addition to using them for some “secret research project,” did the Obama IRS otherwise misuse the donor list names the agency knew it had no business having? Well, we have some clues. The Ways and Means Committee announced at May 7, 2014, hearing that, after scores of conservative groups provided donor information “to the IRS, nearly one in ten donors were subject to audit.” In 2011, as many as five donorsto one conservative (c)(4) organization were audited, according to the Wall Street Journal. And this past June, the IRS admitted wrongdoing in releasing the conservative National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) confidential tax return and donor list, which were published in March 2012 by the Human Rights Campaign. The Human Rights Campaign is the chief political rival to NOM; its outgoing presidenthad been named a national co-chair of the Obama Reelection Campaign. The IRS reportedly agreed to pay NOM $50,000 to settle the lawsuit.
To this very day, Democrats in Congress who pressured the IRS to go after their enemies pretend that “progressive” groups were targeted in large numbers, as well – despite their being not a scintilla of evidence that conservative groups were the focus. The IRS confirms this again in these new emails, which also include a July 18, 2012, email to Lerner from Judith Kindell, senior technical adviser to Lois Lerner, showing that 75% of the nearly 200 non-profit 501 (c)(4) political activist groups targeted by the IRS were conservative, and only 5% were liberal:
Of the 199 (c)(4) cases, approximately 3/4 appear to be conservative leaning while fewer than 10 appear to be liberal/progressive leaning groups based solely on the name. The remainder do not obviously lean to either side of the political spectrum.
Shortly after this email exchange, another email chain on June 28 between Lerner and Holly Paz, the former director of the Office of Rulings and Agreements,shows that Lerner believed that the TIGTA and congressional inquiries into the IRS’s practices were so “dangerous” to the IRS that she didn’t even trust Paz to talk to the investigators alone:
- June 28, 2012 8:57 AM — Paz to Lerner: “Now TIGTA wants to talk to me. I am guessing they read this morning’s paper. [Apparent reference to Wall Street Journal article concerning IRS scrutiny of Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS tax exempt status]Will keep you posted.”
- June 28, 2012 9:13 AM — Lerner to Paz: “Not alone. Wait til I am there.”
- June 28, 2012 09:17 AM — Paz to Lerner: “Sorry. Too late. He already called me. It was not about WSJ. Just him trying to get better understanding of the scope of the [House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave] Camp [R-MI] request.”
- June 28, 2012 8:22 AM — Lerner to Paz: “Just as dangerous. I’ll talk to you soon. Be there in half hour.”
The “dangerous” Camp request to which Paz and Lerner referred was apparently a reference to a letter sent in May by Republican Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee David Camp to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman requesting copies of all 501(c)(4) applications from 2010 and 2011. Despite the consternation expressed about the “dangerous” Camp applications request, an August 14, 2012, email from Lerner to Paz revealed that as of that date, “…no one from the Hill has shown up to look at them.” In short, the email suggests that the Republican-controlled House and Ways Committee in Congress may have missed an opportunity to uncover the scandal in 2012. Imagine how the debate might have turned in an election year if it were known then that the Obama IRS was targeting Obama’s enemies list.
The new documents also include emails further contradicting President Obama’s February 2014 excuse that the IRS targeting was entirely the fault of “bonehead decisions in local offices.” Obama was parroting Lois Lerner’s May 2013 claim that the targeting of conservative groups was the fault of “low-level” employees in Cincinnati for the targeting of conservative groups. In the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election, Lerner and other top IRS officials made it clear that no “advocacy” applications should be approved or denied without express approval from Lerner’s office in Washington, DC:
- June 20, 2012: — Email from IRS attorney Michael C. Seton to managers in Exempt Organizations division defining targeted groups’ approval procedures:
Please inform the reviewers and staff in your groups that before issuing any favorable or initial denial rulings on any cases with advocacy issues, the reviewers must notify me and you [Lerner and other senior IRS staffers] via e -mail and get our approval. No favorable or initial denial rulings can be issued without your and my approval. The e-mail notification includes the name of the case, and a synopsis of facts and denial rationale. I may require a short briefing depending on the facts and circumstances of the particular case.
- June 29, 2012: — Email from Lois Lerner to Nikole Flax apparently criticizing the IRS Exempt Organizations Determinations Unit for taking too long to categorize non-profits as political and directing that top Washington IRS official Holly Paz would settle disputes over who was to be targeted:
Although Quality was on board and involved with the training, we are seeing some tendency for Determs staff to continue to over -develop political activity issue. When asked why, they say they are concerned that if they don’t, Quality will ding them. If can’t reach agreement, it comes to Holly.
- June 26, 2012: — Email from Lerner to Holly Paz and Cindy Thomas in which Lerner notes that TIGTA asked for files directly from the Federal Records Center and warns that this makes sense in “context of a really sensitive investigation alleging political bias by the IRS.” The Federal Records Act (FRA) requires the preservation of official e-mails at the National Archives Federal Record Center. This email from Lerner was dated during the same time period during which the IRS claims her emails were lost and her Blackberry was “wiped clean” and “removed as scrap for disposal …” In violation of Section 3106 of the FRA, the IRS failed to notify the Archives that Lerner’s emails were missing.
The IRS also produced an email exchange in which Lerner takes issue with IRS spokesman Dean Patterson, who had revealed March 8, 2012, Roll Call article the existence of a “companion process” for administering applications for tax-exempt status. After Lerner received an advisory from TIGTA asking to discuss the Roll Call article, the following email exchange occurred:
- April 2, 2012: 7:00 PM — Lerner to Patterson:
Importance: High. As you can see below [email from TIGTA Audit Manager Thomas Seidell], we are meeting with TIGTA later this week. They have given us a list of topics they want to discuss. I am not familiar with the Roll Call article he sites –can you shoot us a copy please? Thanks
- April 3, 2012: 8:59 AM — IRS Public Affairs Specialist Burke Anthony to Lerner :
Lois, per your request, here is the Roll Call article. I put Dean’s quote in bold; it’s about 17 graphs into the story:
“Dean Patterson, a spokesman for the IRS, denied the existence of a special committee but said the IRS has a “companion process that administers the same provisions of the tax law in the context of new applications for tax-exempt status. The legal issues and the information that will inform our discussions will be similar in both contexts.”
- April 3, 2012: 9:26 AM — Lerner to Anthony:
Thanks–sorry, but I really have no clue what he means by a companion process that “administers the same provisions of the tax law in the context of new applications for tax -exempt status. The legal issues and the information that will inform our discussions will be similar in both contexts.” As I will need to talk to TIGTA about this on Thursday, perhaps you can give me a better sense of what he is referring to? I could guess, but don’t want to be guessing in this context.
As a regular reader of the Weekly Update, you know that the FOIA lawsuit that produced these records asked the court to order the IRS, among other documents, to provide records of communications by former IRS official Lois Lerner.
The communications we sought covered portions of the same period for which the IRS on June 13, 2014, notified the Senate Finance Committee that Lerner’s emails had been lost or destroyed but did not notify the court or Judicial Watch. In response to our request for more information, U.S. District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan held a July 10 hearing and ordered the IRS to produce sworn declarations about its efforts to find and restore Lerner’s allegedly missing emails.
Then on August 25, Department of Justice attorneys for the IRS conceded to JW that Lerner’s “missing emails” (and all government records) had been backed-up in case of catastrophe, but that it would be too “onerous” to search this back-up system for Lerner’s emails. The Justice Department has since put out anonymous statements alleging that we “misheard” what its lawyers said and that the agency did not disclose “new” information about a back-up system.
It is not in dispute that the existence of any back-up system was withheld from the court despite twoorders demanding specifically sworn declarations about where Lerner’s emails may be residing and efforts to obtain them. The Obama administration has refused our requests that they amend the sworn declarations and finally inform Judge Sullivan directly about this back-up system. Administration lawyers have steadfastly refused and subsequently submitted a “status report” to the Court on August 29 that, again, makes no mention of any back-up system.
Judicial Watch lawyers are preparing now to ask the court for relief in light of the Obama administration’s continuing efforts to thwart Judge Sullivan’s orders.
It is not surprising that it took a Judicial Watch lawsuit and a federal court order to force the Obama administration to produce these shocking emails from the IRS. And now we have learned the stunning news that Obama’s IRS had a “secret research program” that used the illicitly-obtained confidential donor lists of conservative and Tea Party organizations that opposed President Obama’s agenda or reelection. With all this IRS abuse, it is no wonder Lois Lerner said that questions by Congress and others were “dangerous.”
It is well past time that President Obama should be held to account about his repeated and recent falsehoods about his IRS scandal.
Judicial Watch Warns of Imminent Terrorist Attack
On Friday, August 29, Judicial Watch issued a major news story alerting the American people to an imminent terrorist attack on the Mexican border. And the JW alert set off a firestorm of media coverage:
“Despite assurances that no threat to American soil is imminent,” FOX News reported, “the watchdog group Judicial Watch said Friday that Islamic State operatives are in Juarez, just across the border from Texas, and are planning to attack the United States with car bombs.”
The Washington Times headlined its breaking news report, “Watchdog: Fed’s denial of Islamic State Mexico threat ‘so dishonest,’” informing its readers, “Judicial Watch released a statement that said Islamic terrorist groups who have infiltrated the city of Ciudad Juarez aim to use car bombs to attack American interests.”
NewsMax.com bannered the story: “Judicial Watch: ‘Imminent’ Terror Attack Warning on US Border.” And National Review Onlinechimed in, “Judicial Watch: Feds’ Bulletin Describes Threat of Imminent Terrorist Attack on Southern Border.”
The sobering news first appeared Judicial Watch’s Corruption Chronicles blog, issued on August 29 and updated on August 31, which spelled out the danger direct terms. And it revealed inside information obtained from exclusive JW sources. Below is full text of this important information, as updated on August 31:
Islamic terrorist groups are operating in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez and planning to attack the United States with car bombs or other vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED). High-level federal law enforcement, intelligence and other sources have confirmed to Judicial Watch that a warning bulletin for an imminent terrorist attack on the border has been issued. Agents across a number of Homeland Security, Justice and Defense agencies have all been placed on alert and instructed to aggressively work all possible leads and sources concerning this imminent terrorist threat.
Specifically, the government sources reveal that the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is confirmed to now be operating in Juarez, a famously crime-infested narcotics hotbed situated across from El Paso, Texas. Violent crimes are so rampant in Juarez that the U.S. State Department has issued a number of travel warnings for anyone planning to go there. The last one was issued just a few days ago.
Intelligence officials have picked up radio talk and chatter indicating that the terrorist groups are going to “carry out an attack on the border,” according to one JW source. “It’s coming very soon,” according to another high-level source, who clearly identified the groups planning the plots as “ISIS and Al Qaeda.” An attack is so imminent that the commanding general at Ft. Bliss, the U.S. Army post in El Paso, is being briefed, JW’s sources say. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not respond to multiple inquiries from Judicial Watch, both telephonic and in writing, about this information.
But two days after JW published this report Ft. Bliss implemented increased security measures. The statement that went out to the media attributes the move to several recent security assessments and the constant concern for the safety of military members, families, employees and civilians. However, El Paso’s newspaper credited JW’s Friday piece about ISIS terrorists planning an attack on U.S. soil from Juarez as a possible factor.
The disturbing inside intelligence comes on the heels of news reports revealing that U.S. intelligence has picked up increased chatter among Islamist terror networks approaching the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. While these terrorists reportedly plan their attack just outside the U.S., President Obama admits that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to combat ISIS. “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” the commander-in-chief said this week during a White House press briefing. “I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggest that folks are getting a little further ahead of what we’re at than what we currently are.”
The administration has also covered up, or at the very least downplayed, a serious epidemic of crime along the Mexican border even as heavily armed drug cartels have taken over portions of the region. Judicial Watch has reported that the U.S. Border Patrol actually ordered officers to avoid the most crime-infested stretches because they’re “too dangerous” and patrolling them could result in an “international incident” of cross border shooting. In the meantime, who could forget the famous words of Obama’s first Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano; the southern border is “as secure as it has ever been.”
These new revelations are bound to impact the current debate about the border crisis and immigration policy.
And what was the Obama administration’s response to this stunning terrorist alert? Deny. Deny. Deny. As the Daily Mail reported:
The Department of Homeland Security quickly denied claims on Friday from a watchdog group that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has militants stationed in Juarez, Mexico who plan an ‘imminent’ attack against the United States.
A DHS spokesman was bewildered, telling MailOnline that ‘we are aware of absolutely nothing credible to substantiate this claim’ made by Judicial Watch, a center-right group.
“In Mexico?” the official said on the phone. “I haven’t seen that at all.”
But the major media has yet to pick up the news of the increase of security of Ft. Bliss, which is major news. As we report on our Corruption Chronicles follow up report:
But senior military officials contacted by JW this week reveal that military installations in the U.S. only make changes to security measures when there are clear and present threats. “It’s a significant issue when this is done,” says retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, former commander of the Army’s elite Delta Force who also served four years as Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. “That means they’re getting a threat stream. Ft. Bliss had to have a clear and present threat.”
I also encourage you to review our Daily Caller opinion piece, “If There’s No Imminent Threat To Our Southern Border, Why Is Ft. Bliss Stepping Up Security?” We are proud to have done our part to protect our nation’s security by reporting on this threat that the Obama administration dishonestly refuses to acknowledge.
So, the president who has “no strategy” for dealing with ISIS terrorism worldwide apparently has no interest in dealing with it here at home. As I note in the Daily Caller piece:
As we approach September 11, our public safety warning has boosted the morale of government security personnel on the frontlines, who are now frantically trying to prevent a deadly terrorist attack on our southern border with an urgency that is hard to overstate. Americans should not be reassured by vague denials of DC officials. But Americans can be reassured by our homeland security personnel deployed to the Mexican border – military and civilian – who are doing their best to defend our nation from this imminent threat from our Islamist enemies.
You can also trust that we will let you know of any developments.
Panel event: ‘Holding President Obama Accountable to the Rule of Law’
In closing, I just want to give you a reminder of the upcoming Judicial Watch panel discussion entitled, “Holding the Obama Administration Accountable to the Rule of Law.” I’ll be moderating a dynamic discussion that will include House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Andrew C. McCarthy, Senior Fellow, National Review Institute and author of Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.
Our panel will discuss various approaches, including a planned lawsuit by the House of Representatives, to challenge President Obama’s series of unilateral “executive actions” that critics contend violate federal law, fail to enforce federal law and exceed his constitutionally-enumerated powers.
Details are below. I certainly hope you can join us. We will be streaming the event live here.
Date: Tuesday, September 9
Time: 2-3:00 pm ET
Location: Judicial Watch
Main Conference Room
425 Third Street SW
Washington, DC 20024
Until next week…