WASHINGTON—The Washington-based watchdog group Judicial Watch is on a roll. Two weeks after obtaining emails that show the White House crafted discredited talking points on Benghazi, Judicial Watch this week dropped another bombshell announcement: New documents show the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups originated in Washington, D.C.
A May 2013 inspector general’s report showed the IRS singled out groups with conservative-sounding names for extra scrutiny beginning in March 2010. President Barack Obama, Lois Lerner, the former head of the agency’s tax-exempt division, and other administration officials blamed the targeting on rogue agents in the IRS office in Cincinnati, but emails obtained by Judicial Watch tell a different story.
A July 6, 2010, email from Washington IRS official Holly Paz asks IRS lawyer Steven Grodnitzky to tell two Cincinnati employees “how we have been handling tea party applications in the last few months.” Grodnitzky responds by saying his office “is working the tea party applications in coordination with Cincy. We are developing a few applications here in DC and providing copies of our development letters with the agent to use as examples in the development of their cases.”
Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, said the documents “show that officials in the IRS headquarters were responsible for the illegal delays of tea party applications.” He called it “disturbing” to see Lerner trying to “mislead the IRS’ internal investigators” into thinking otherwise.
Lerner denies wrongdoing but has twice invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify before Congress on grounds that it might incriminate her. Last week, House Republicans voted to hold her in contempt of Congress for not cooperating with its investigation.
The IRS documents also show Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ permanent subcommittee on investigations, actively pressured high-ranking IRS officials to continue targeting conservative groups. In a July 27, 2012, letter, Levin personally singles out a dozen groups he wants investigated for what he calls “political activity.” The list included only one left-leaning organization, Priorities USA, and 11 conservative ones, including Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform, and the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, Susan B. Anthony List president, said on Thursday the revelation is “another example of government attempts to stoke fear in the hearts of those who disagree with them. Fear of engaging in the public square is antithetical to the ideals on which our country was built.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, renewed his call for a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS targeting, noting in a statement the administration’s explanations have proved false. “This administration has lost all credibility to investigate this partisan scandal, especially given that they have entrusted the investigation to be led by a major Democratic donor.”
Barbara Bosserman, the lead Department of Justice investigator, made $6,750 in donations to Obama’s re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee. House Republicans invited her to testify at a February hearing, but she did not attend. Democrats say there is no evidence to suggest she is conducting a biased investigation.
In March, John Koskinen, the new IRS commissioner, told lawmakers his agency was doing all it could to turn over documents to Congress in a timely manner. But as with the Benghazi investigation, Judicial Watch had to file a lawsuit to get the administration to hand over the latest round of documents. The organization filed a Freedom of Information Act request in May 2013 and sued in October.