Steve John will love this
The Trump administration agreed Thursday to pay $3.5 million to tea party groups snared by IRS targeting during the Obama administration, saying the intrusive scrutiny was illegal and cannot be allowed to happen again.
The government also reversed its tune on former IRS senior executive Lois G. Lerner. Instead of being a hero who tried to stop the targeting — as the Obama administration concluded in 2015 — the Justice Department and IRS now say she failed to stop her employees and hid the bad behavior from her bosses for two years.
As part of the agreements, the government admitted that the IRS forced tea party groups into illegal delays and unconscionable scrutiny, including questions about their political beliefs, plans to run for office and names of financial backers.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who took over in the wake of the scandal and ran into trouble of his own after he misled Congress about the destruction of Ms. Lerner’s emails, is due to leave the agency early next month.
By the time the dust settled, more than 450 groups had been identified as snared by the targeting. Some were liberal, but the vast majority were conservative-leaning organizations that had applied for nonprofit status under the 501© section of the tax code.
The settlement puts special blame on Ms. Lerner, the only IRS employee mentioned by name in the 14-page statement of facts and findings.
“The then-Director of the [exempt organizations] Division, Lois Lerner, first became aware that the IRS received applications from Tea Party groups as early as April or May 2010. For the next two years, Lerner failed to adequately manage the EO Division employees who processed these applications,” the consent agreement says.
Tom Zawistowski, head of the Portage County Tea Party in Ohio, said Ms. Lerner should have faced criminal charges for her role, which court documents filed earlier in the case show involved her trying to shield the activity by changing names but overall approving and in fact intensifying the scrutiny the conservative groups were given.
He said he still wants the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to pursue the case and get to the bottom of the motive behind the targeting.
But emails released this year show the IRS was made aware by its own agents that it was singling out groups based on their politics, not on questions about their tax behavior.
“These cases are held back primarily because of their political party affiliation rather than specifically any political activities,” Elizabeth C. Kastenberg, an official in the agency’s exempt organizations division, wrote in an April 1, 2011, email to other IRS employees, including her supervisor.