The facts are simple. The IRS systematically targeted conservative and Tea Party groups after their activism proved decisive in the 2010 midterm elections—Obama’s famous “shellacking.” The effects of this targeting were widespread. Some Tea Party groups were neutered in the months before the 2012 presidential election.
Few of the explanations or justifications of this targeting provided by IRS leaders and Obama administration officials have held up. IRS officials at first denied that any targeting had taken place. That was false. They later claimed that the targeting had involved only low-level employees in the Cincinnati office. That was false. They argued that conservative groups weren’t singled out, that progressive groups were subject to the same level of scrutiny. That was false. They argued that the IRS has complied with all requests for information from Congress. That was false.
Three years ago, on June 3, 2011, Representative Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, wrote to the IRS requesting all information—including emails and other communication—related to the alleged targeting of conservative groups. Ten days later, Lois Lerner, the woman at the center of the targeting, reported to the IT team at the IRS that her hard drive had crashed. IRS leaders, questioned repeatedly about Lerner’s emails in subsequent congressional hearings, made no mention of the hard drive crash. Earlier this summer, IRS director John Koskinen disclosed that thousands of Lerner emails—including many of those sent to executive branch agencies—were missing because of the alleged computer problems. From her first appearance before a congressional committee, back in May 2013, Lerner has exercised her right against self-incrimination and refused to testify.
Last week brought a significant new revelation: an email in which Lerner seeks advice about keeping information from Congress. On April 9, 2013, Lerner emailed Marcia Hooke, an information technology specialist at the IRS, with an inquiry about an internal IRS message system known as OCS—Office Communications Service.
I had a question today about OCS. I was cautioning folks about email and how we have had several occasions where Congress has asked for emails and there has been an electronic search for responsive emails—so we need to be cautious about what we say in emails. Someone asked if OCS conversations were also searchable—I don’t know but told them I would get back to them. Do you know?
Hooke responds that OCS conversations are not automatically saved, but adds the obvious disclaimer that the communicating parties may save them on their own. For that reason, it’s possible that they could turn up in a search. But the answer to the original question? No, they’re not saved.
Lerner responds: “Perfect.”
The exchange raises several questions:
• Why would Lerner “caution folks about email” and urge them “to be cautious about what we say in emails” if she and her colleagues had done nothing wrong?
• What was in these OCS communications that Lerner wanted to keep from Congress?
• Why would a senior IRS bureaucrat think it appropriate to withhold any information from lawmakers elected to provide oversight of agencies like the IRS?
• Why was Lerner concerned that Congress would see these internal IRS communications?
There’s actually an answer to that last question: She knew that the IRS scandal was about to explode.
At the time Lerner sent the email, IRS officials had recently learned that the Treasury inspector general would be issuing a report the following month criticizing the agency for its targeting of conservative groups. And Lerner’s email came just before she planted a question in the audience at an American Bar Association conference on May 10 in an effort to get out in front of the controversy.
These facts lead to one conclusion: Lois Lerner and other top IRS officials were desperate to keep information on the targeting of conservative groups from Congress.
It’s crucial to understand why. And that will require a special prosecutor.
Congressional Democrats have repeatedly called for an end to the investigations on Capitol Hill. The Justice Department investigation—using that word loosely—is being run by an Obama contributor. And Barack Obama, who once worried that such targeting was a subversion of our democracy, has since pronounced, in the face of a steady accumulation of evidence to the contrary, that there is not a “smidgen of corruption” to the IRS targeting.
That, too, is false.