In their wisdom, the founders sought to protect certain fundamental freedoms in the First Amendment to the Constitution. One of the most important is the freedom to speak out against the policies of your government.
That is why the IRS scandal should outrage Americans across the political spectrum. It is chilling to think that any American could be singled out and targeted by their government simply for opposing the policies of the president.
Some in Washington say this is politics as usual and ask why we continue to investigate. It is easy for issues to get lost in the politics of Washington, but let’s remember what the investigation has uncovered, and what questions remain.
On Jan. 21, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, a decision that gave Americans a greater ability to participate in political campaigns. President Obama strongly disagreed with the Citizens United decision, even criticizing the Supreme Court during his State of the Union address on Jan. 27, 2010. In the months following the decision, he advocated for a legislative “fix,” calling opposition to the DISCLOSE Act “damaging to our democracy” and “politics at its worst.” He claimed that groups like the Allen County Patriots were “shadow groups” organizing to influence elections.
In addition, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Max Baucus asked the IRS in 2010 to undermine the Citizens United ruling, as they viewed new conservative non-profit groups as a potential threat to their influence in Washington.
The pressure from powerful Democrats was building on IRS division chief Lois Lerner to take action. She confided to a group on Oct. 19, 2010, that “everyone” was “up in arms” about the case, asking the IRS to “fix it now before the election” to which Lerner cryptically responded, “I won’t know until I look at their (IRS form) 990s next year … so I can’t do anything right now.”
Following the Republican landslide on Nov. 2, 2010, Lois Lerner emailed her IRS colleagues that the “Tea Party Matter is very dangerous.” The IRS launched a new “multi-tier” review process — code for targeting and harassment.
This move handcuffed hundreds of conservative non-profits across the country. Groups like the Sidney Shelby County Liberty Group in our district had applications put on hold for years. Many were asked invasive questions that their liberal counterparts were not.
Questions ran from the intrusive to the bizarre. They included requests for details about how donations, contributions and grants were used. They included demands for corporate minutes “from inception to the present” and copies of all “bulletins, flyers, newsletters or any other media or literature you have disseminated to your members or others.” They even asked for “copies of stories and articles that have been published about you.” Another request: “explain in detail the derivation of your organization’s name.”
But it didn’t stop there. One pro-life organization was even asked to explain in detail the activities of prayer meetings.
When word of this unfair treatment got to Congress, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp wrote the IRS on June 3, 2011, requiring them to preserve relevant documents on the matter. Ten days later, Lois Lerner’s laptop crashed. The computer hard drives of six other IRS employees suspected of participating in the targeting also crashed. Lois Lerner’s hard drive was subsequently destroyed and it is likely the contents of all seven hard drives are lost forever. Recent reports suggest that Lois Lerner’s hard drive was “scratched,” rather than crashed, and that the number of crashed hard drives involved may be closer to 20.
Lois Lerner met with Oversight committee staff in February 2012 and told them that none of the IRS criteria for evaluating tax-exempt applicants had changed. But in fact, Lois Lerner had personally ordered the change in June 2011.
In June 2012, Chairman Darrell Issa and I called for an Inspector General investigation into the matter. The IG sent a confidential draft of their investigation report to the IRS for review on March 28, 2013. Days later, Lois Lerner cautioned her colleagues in an email, “Congress has asked for emails … so we need to be cautious about what we say in emails.” She also asked whether internal IRS instant messages were saved. Upon learning they were not, she replied, “Perfect.”
On May 10, 2013, four days before the Inspector General report went public, Lois Lerner gave a speech to the American Bar Association. She responded to a planted question on the topic by blaming IRS line agents in Cincinnati for targeting conservative groups. This was completely false, but the White House picked up this false narrative and continued to say it was just a problem in Cincinnati. Jay Carney said on May 20 that “there were line employees at the IRS who improperly targeted conservative groups.” President Obama said, “There were some boneheaded decisions out of a local office” and “you’ve got an office in Cincinnati, in the IRS office that – I think, for bureaucratic reasons, is trying to streamline what is a difficult law to interpret…”
On May 14, 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would investigate the issue. On June 13, 2013, I asked the FBI director about the progress of the investigation, but he could not tell me who the lead investigator was, how many (if any) agents were assigned to the case, and whether any of the victims had been interviewed.
Even though the Justice Department investigation is still technically ongoing, we already know how it is going to end. The FBI told the Wall Street Journal in January 2014 that no one would be prosecuted in the matter, and days later in a Super Bowl Sunday interview, President Obama said that there was not even “a smidgen” of corruption in the case. Later, we learned that the lead investigator in the case is a $6,750 contributor to the Obama campaign and Democratic National Committee. That is why 26 Democrats joined all House Republicans on May 7, 2014 to call for a special prosecutor.
And that is why the House Oversight committee continues to investigate, and why we are still uncovering new facts over a year later. We will not stop until we get to the truth and those involved are brought to justice. We owe it to the American people to ensure that their free speech rights are protected, and to ensure that such gross suppression never occurs again.