Grassley’s narrow escape [With Comments By John]

The House Ways and Means Committee has issued a press release stating that Lois Lerner sought to target Republican Senator Chuck Chuck Grassley for audit. The press release is based on email messages that the committee has posted here.

Through a sheer stroke of bad luck, Lois Lerner received an event invitation directed to Senator Grassley and Grassley apparently received Lerner’s. The invitation indicated that the event organizer would pay for Senator Grassley’s wife to attend, which would have resulted in reportable income.

“Looked like they were inappropriately offering to pay for his wife,” Lerner wrote her colleague Matthew Giuliano. Lerner asked Giuliano whether the matter should be referred for exam.

The AP account following up on the press release is here. As the AP notes, it unclear from the email whether Lerner wanted to refer Senator Grassley or the organization, or both, for exam. Giuliano seemed to think that Lerner was a little overeager in light of the fact that such an invitation was legal and nothing had happened yet.

The AP account helps the reader understand the story that is glimpsed in the press release and the accompanying emails. Here is the press release:

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) announced the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) targeting of conservative individuals includes a sitting United States Senator. According to emails reviewed by the Committee under its Section 6103 authority, which allows the Committee to review confidential taxpayer information, Lois Lerner sought to have Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) referred for IRS examination.

“We have seen a lot of unbelievable things in this investigation, but the fact that Lois Lerner attempted to initiate an apparently baseless IRS examination against a sitting Republican United States Senator is shocking,” said Camp. “At every turn, Lerner was using the IRS as a tool for political purposes in defiance of taxpayer rights. We may never know the full extent of the abuse since the IRS conveniently lost two years of Lerner emails, not to mention those of other key figures in this scandal. The fact that DOJ refuses to investigate the IRS’s abuses or appoint a special counsel demonstrates, yet again, this Administration’s unwillingness to uphold the rule of law.”

The press release comes with the following background:

While the Ways and Means Committee investigation into Lerner’s involvement in the potential Grassley examination is ongoing, documents show that Lerner received an invitation to a speaking event that was intended for Senator Grassley. Instead of forwarding the invitation to Grassley’s office, Lerner immediately suggested to others in her office that the issue should be referred for examination. The Committee was able to investigate this information through its authority under Section 6103 of the tax code. A waiver was signed by Senator Grassley and his wife in order to make this information public.

Via Daniel Halper/Weekly Standard.

JOHN adds: I don’t think Lerner meant to have Grassley investigated, but rather the nonprofit organization that issued the speaking invitation. It is helpful to see the emails. This is the one Lois Lerner sent after mistakenly receiving the invitation that was directed to Senator Grassley. Click to enlarge:


Note that Lerner doesn’t seem to know much about tax law. There is nothing “inappropriate” about the group that sponsored the seminar offering to pay Mrs. Grassley’s way. But when Lerner suggests that the matter should be “refer[red] to Exam,” I think she is pretty clearly talking about the section of the IRS for which she has responsibility, i.e., nonprofit organizations. The inappropriateness, if any, would be on the part of the organization, not Grassley.

An IRS lawyer, Matthew Giuliano, gently set Lerner straight:


Again, his response seems clearly directed to the organization rather than Grassley. He says that paying for Mrs. Grassley’s ticket is “not prohibited on its face” because Grassley is not an officer or director, etc., of the organization. Portions of Giuliano’s email are redacted; they evidently identified the organization and also described its tax status. Lerner’s reply to Giuliano picks up on the organization’s legal form:


I am pretty sure that the redacted portion of this email says either “c3” or “c4.” Lerner’s assumption about the legal status of the group had been incorrect, but–as she suggests–the lawyer’s analysis would be the same in either case. Again, the point is that Lerner’s focus was on the organization, not the senator.

Maybe this is an instance of Lerner being trigger-happy when it comes to going after conservative c3s and c4s. We can’t judge that without knowing more about the organization. But we know that the group issued the same invitation to Lerner that it did to Grassley, so there is no obvious basis, that I can see, for making such an assumption.

So I think Lerner is getting something of a bad rap on this one. I don’t see any indication that she wanted to throw a Republican senator in jail, and in the absence of more information, I don’t see any evidence that she wanted to persecute a conservative organization, either. The exchange does indicate that Lerner doesn’t know much about the law that she is charged with administering.

Presumably the organization that issued the invitation to Grassley will be able to identify itself, and maybe it will step forward with a narrative of persecution at the hands of the IRS. For now, though, my judgment is that this email thread may show an over-zealousness on Lois Lerner’s part, and a surprising lack of knowledge of the law that she administered. But I don’t think she was going after Charles Grassley, and so far, at least, I don’t see evidence that this was an instance of anti-conservative bias.

MORE by JOHN: I am as big a Drudge fan as anyone, but I think this is just wrong:


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