Today’s IRS Documents: What Do They Show?

Earlier today, Judicial Watch made public a batch of documents that it received from the IRS in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents consist of a series of emails relating to the IRS’s treatment of applications for 501(c)(4) status from “Tea Party” or otherwise conservative organizations.

I am still working my way through the emails, but have a few preliminary observations. First, the most significant ones I have seen so far have already been widely discussed. The email below documents a call from the Department of Justice about whether non-profits that “lied” about doing political activity can be criminally prosecuted. This was an idea that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse raised at a committee hearing. It was picked up on by DOJ, and there was some coordination among DOJ, the IRS and the FEC. Click to enlarge:

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This one is obviously significant. Lois Lerner says, in effect, to disregard administration spin: the effort is “ALL about 501(c)(4) orgs and political activity.” Click to enlarge:

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This one is my favorite. It was sent by Cindy Thomas to Lerner just after Lerner disclosed the targeting of conservative groups at an American Bar Association conference, and blamed it on “low level workers” in the IRS’s Cincinnati office. That was obviously a total lie, and Ms. Thomas, who was in charge of exempt organizations at the Cincinnati branch at the time, rubs it in. This email was actually made public last November, but if you haven’t yet seen it (I hadn’t), you should. Click to enlarge:

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My only other comment is that the emails are heavily redacted. Almost all of the redactions cite exemption b5, which is very general; it covers any document or portion of a document that would not have to be produced in a civil action. Actually, if documents fall within the scope of a Rule 34 request, the circumstances under which they do not need to be produced are quite narrow. While it is impossible to judge the appropriateness of a redaction without knowing what has been blacked out, there are a number of instances where it is hard to believe that any normally recognized privilege would apply.

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