Jackson: Did Lois Lerner Break The Law?

New Evidence Suggests She Did Break The Law


Speaking of scandals that won’t go away (Benghazi, Hillary Clinton’s home brew email server … we could go on, but space is limited), Lois Lerner is back in the news.

And, as with other Obama administration shenanigans, what’s suddenly newsworthy happened ages ago. But the genius of this particular presidency — the most transparent in history, remember — is how well its legal minions employ procedural tricks to keep clamps on evidence of activities that are at best unflattering and at worst downright illegal.

So, Lois Lerner.

She’s been off the stage for a while, so let’s refresh.

Lerner came to public notice as the henchwoman in the IRS’s aggression against conservative nonprofit organizations that sprang up during the tea party movement after the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United (more about which below).

Subpoenaed by the Republican-led House committee investigating the abuses, Lerner proclaimed herself innocent of wrongdoing, then invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. This led to a lively debate in lofty legal circles about whether that’s how the Fifth Amendment actually works. Alas, debating is as far as it has gone … so far, anyway.

Lerner subsequently retired and now secludes herself in her Bethesda, Md., home with her tax attorney husband, collecting a nice pension. Your tax dollars at work.

The evidence that Lerner wasn’t being truthful on the culpability front gained a fresh revelation Wednesday when, through the dogged efforts of good-government watchdog group Cause of Action, we learned Lerner’s October 2010 transfer of 1.5 million pages of confidential tax documents from the IRS to Obama’s Department of Justice almost certainly broke the law.

Included in the transfer were nonprofits’ Schedule B forms, attachments that require the names and addresses of organization donors. All this, as Iliana Johnson notes for National Review Online, was revealed in 2014 during the House’s probe of IRS targeting conservative groups.

“What we know now, thanks to additional documents unearthed in years-long litigation by … Cause of Action, is that Lerner almost certainly broke the law when she transferred the documents. That casts a new light on the Justice Department’s decision last year not to prosecute Lerner, who had become the face of the IRS’s ham-handed effort to crack down on right-leaning groups, but against whom a criminal case might have been difficult to build.”

In fact, there are circumstances under which such transfers are perfectly appropriate. However, according to Cause of Action Institute executive director Dan Epstein, a former attorney for the House committee investigating the IRS targeting, none of these disclosures met the legal criteria.

Instead, Epstein says, Lerner’s branch of the IRS and Justice appear to have been partners in a fishing trip “aimed at ginning up prosecutions of these groups without going through the legally required channels.”

This is the sort of stuff that precipitates the drafting of enemies lists, which was among the activities included in the articles of impeachment being drafted against Richard Nixon when he hadn’t resigned the presidency in August 1974.

Now? Yawn. Stretch. Nothing to see here. Move along. Only a couple of conservative web sites reported the story. Maybe because it’s complicated, or it’s pretty much over anyway. Come back when Republicans cite Lerner for impeaching IRS chief John Koskinen.

Or maybe, in the discerning eyes of news gatekeepers, it’s because the IRS was going after the right people, all those silly troublemakers in tricorn hats. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time a story important to conservatives got bricked up.

But even if it’s belated, this is serious stuff, coming on the heels of the January 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which, among other things, was a boon to issues-oriented social-welfare groups, allowing them to dump, as Johnson notes, “unlimited money into the political process and keep their donors anonymous.”

Obama made his sour feelings on the matter clear during his 2010 State of the Union address. The subsequent off-the-books cooperation between Lerner and Justice looks entirely like a we’ll-see-about-that pushback designed to undermine Citizens United while pleasing the president.

If they broke the law attempting make the boss happy, hey, what’s an omelet without a few broken eggs?

Veteran journalist and center-right blogger Tom Jackson has worked for newspapers in Washington D.C., Sacramento, Calif., and Tampa, Fla., racking up state and national awards for writing, editing and design along the way. Tom also has been published in assorted sports magazines, and his work has been included in several annual “Best Sports Stories” collections. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife, two children and a couple of yappy dogs.