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Covering for the IRS

New details on the Administration’s spin and stall strategy.

Wall Street Journal

IRS scandal_lost emails_lois lernerThe IRS targeting of conservative groups has now become a story about the cover-up. More than a year after the scandal became public, the most transparent Administration in history has done everything in its power to spin the story, stymie Congressional investigators and run out the clock.

Take the latest moment of hilarity, er, clarity from the Justice Department, in which a communications aide to Attorney General Eric Holder mistakenly called Republicans on the HouseOversight and Government Reform Committee when he meant to call Democrats. The aide, Brian Fallon, told staffers he was calling to see if they could leak information to friendly reporters and give the Justice Department a chance to comment before the majority got their hands on it.

When he realized his error, committee staffers say Mr. Fallon came back on the line to say, oh, sorry, there has been a change of plans and Justice wouldn’t share the information after all. Mr. Fallon has since said it is perfectly normal to call Congressional Republicans and Democrats, though he does deserve a place in the dimwit government hall of fame.

Mr. Fallon wanted to leak something about Andrew Strelka, the former Justice Department lawyer who was assigned to a case brought against the IRS by Z Street, a pro-Israel group that says its application for tax-exempt status was delayed in 2009 because of a policy giving special scrutiny to groups whose missions conflicted with the White House line.

Before becoming the Justice Department’s lawyer on the case, Mr. Strelka was a presidential management fellow working in the IRS office that handled the case, presenting a conflict of interest. To wit: Mr. Strelka is likely to be interviewed as a witness in the discovery phase of the trial he was previously litigating. Mr. Strelka has since resigned from the case and left the Justice Department, but the department has provided Congressional investigators with no forwarding address.

The cloak and dagger operation also raises questions about the Administration’s attempts to delay the Z Street case from moving into discovery after federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled it could proceed. First the Justice Department waited until the last hour to file a motion to appeal, then it failed to check a box (literally) when it withdrew its appeal to note that the withdrawal motion was uncontested, a technicality that left the case to moulder for another month before discovery can get underway.

Even allowing for dimwits, count us skeptical that this legal slowrolling is any more coincidental than the congressional version. Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton says that when federal Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the IRS to produce documents in Judicial Watch’s FOIA lawsuit against the agency, the IRS produced them in reverse chronological order—the better to withhold the most sensitive for as long as possible.

Judge Sullivan has been riding herd on the government’s gamesmanship, calling the IRS responses to questions about former Treasury official Lois Lerner’s missing emails deficient and ordering the agency to provide more complete information. When long-withheld documents do surface after long delays, they are invariably pertinent to the questions conservatives have been asking for more than a year. It was after one such request by Judge Sullivan that the IRS fessed up to wiping Ms. Lerner’s Blackberry after the investigation into IRS targeting had begun.

Another such moment happened earlier this month, when the Judicial Watch lawsuit produced a document that raises questions about an IRS “secret research project” related to donor names. In a heavily redacted email chain from May 2012, Ms. Lerner asks how to return some donor lists that the IRS should not have had.

In a June 2012 email to IRS official Holly Paz, IRS Acting Director of Rulings and Agreements David Fish wrote that ” Joseph Urban [IRS Technical Advisor, Tax Exempt and Government Entities] had actually started a secret research project on whether we could, consistent with 6104, argue that [REDACTED] Joe was quite agitated yesterday when I told him what we were doing.” The email continues: “At one point he started saying that this was a decision for Steve Miller . . . Would not be surprised if he already started working on Lois.” Mr. Miller is the former IRS Acting Commissioner who resigned shortly after the scandal broke.

Another batch of emails from the FOIA lawsuit also showed that Ms. Lerner was talking to the Justice Department in 2013 about the possibility of prosecuting some of the same politically active groups that the agency had been targeting.

This is the same Justice Department that is now conducting what by all available evidence is its non-investigation into the IRS’s behavior in the scandal. Your tax dollars at work.