CINCINNATI — A federal judge Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a $3.5 million settlement of a lawsuit against the IRS over alleged targeting of tea party groups and other conservative organizations.
U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett set a July 10 hearing in Cincinnati on making the settlement final, and scheduled deadlines for claims and objections.
The Justice Department had announced last year that the case had been settled, pending approval of terms.
The lead plaintiff was the California-based Norcal Tea Party Patriots. The case swelled into a class-action suit by hundreds of groups. The court will decide how much each gets after legal costs.
The 2013 lawsuit during the Barack Obama administration was over treatment of conservative groups who said they were singled out for extra IRS scrutiny on tax-exempt status applications.
September 8 letter from the Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department said it would not even reopen the investigation because officials require “proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a government employee intentionally discriminated against an applicant for a tax-exempt status based on viewpoint.”
Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam: “The decision not to prosecute Lois Lerner is a miscarriage of justice”
Republicans slammed the Friday announcement by President Donald Trump’s justice department that it will not investigate the official who allegedly oversaw the IRS’ secret sabotage of Americans’ civic groups before the 2012 election.
“This is a terrible decision,” said a statement from Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees taxes and the IRS. His statement continued:
It sends the message that the same legal, ethical, and Constitutional standards we all live by do not apply to Washington political appointees – who will now have the green light to target Americans for their political beliefs and mislead investigators without ever being held accountable for their lawlessness. Not only has the Department of Justice chosen not to hold [IRS manager] Lois Lerner criminally liable for obstructing an official investigation by the Inspector General, the Department continues to defend the Internal Revenue Service’s unconstitutional actions against taxpayers in ongoing civil litigation.
“The decision not to prosecute Lois Lerner is a miscarriage of justice,” said an accompanying statement from the chairman of the tax policy subcommittee, Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam. He continued:
On top of Ms. Lerner’s actions against taxpayers – denying tax-exempt status to groups for political gain and failing to protect taxpayer information – the Department’s response blatantly ignores our most troubling finding: that Ms. Lerner intentionally misled federal investigators in a flagrant violation of the law. This is unacceptable and Ms. Lerner must be held accountable. Our democracy is injured when those who taxpayers entrust with great authority ignore the law to advance their own political agenda without repercussion.”
GOP officials and members of the non-profit groups hoped that Trump’s deputies would investigate and prosecute the wrongdoing.
But the September 8 letter from the Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department said it would not even reopen the investigation because officials require “proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a government employee intentionally discriminated against an applicant for a tax-exempt status based on viewpoint.”
Prior investigations had found mismanagement that disproportionately hurt conservative groups, and the recently appointed department officials reviewed the new reports and concluded that “reopening the criminal investigation would not be appropriate based on the available evidence,” said the Friday letter from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd.
That answer was a response to an April 12 letter from the two GOP leaders on the tax committee, which included more information about Lerner’s activities, and a request that the department “take a fresh look at the evidence presented in the attached referral.” The referral is provided here.
Judicial Watch’s litigation forced the IRS first to say that emails belonging to Lois Lerner, former director of the Exempt Organizations Unit of the IRS, were supposedly missing and later declare to the court that the emails were on IRS back-up systems. Lerner was one of the top officials responsible for the IRS’ targeting of President Obama’s political opponents. Judicial Watch exposed various IRS’ record keeping problems:
In June 2014, the IRS claimed to have “lost” responsive emails belonging to Lerner and other IRS officials.
In July 2014 Judge Emmett Sullivan ordered the IRS to submit to the court a written declaration under oath about what happened to Lerner’s “lost” emails. The sworn declarations proved to be less than forthcoming.
In August 2014, Department of Justice attorneys for the IRS finally admitted Judicial Watch that Lerner’s emails, indeed all government computer records, are backed up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe. The IRS’ attorneys also disclosed that Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) was looking at several of these backup tapes.
In November 2014, the IRS told the court it had failed to search any of the IRS standard computer systems for the “missing” emails of Lerner and other IRS officials.
Tom Fitton, Judicial watch president, response to ‘lost’ report, s:
This new report is shocking but not surprising. We have long battled the IRS in court over its obstruction in responding to FOIA requests about Obama era IRS abuses. It is a scandal that the Obama IRS did not tell Judicial Watch, the courts, or Congress about the loss of government records. Our attorneys will review this report to assess whether we should seek relief and accountability from the courts. In the meantime, President Trump should finally fire IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and direct the Justice Department to reopen its criminal inquiry into the Obama IRS abuses and cover-ups.
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) went on with Stewart Varney on Thursday morning to discuss recent developments on Capitol Hill.
Roskam told Stewart House Republicans are planning of filing criminal charges against Lois Lerner.
Rep. Roskam: The Obama Administration was very lenient with the crimes that Lois Lerner committed. And those are strong words that I’m using but the House Ways and Means Committee voted out a criminal referral to the Department of Justice which was completely dismissed by the Department of Justice… We think that Lois Lerner did two things wrong. Number one, she denied people due process and equal protection of the law based on their political philosophy. We’re convinced that there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that that’s true. And that’s a felony. Secondly, we suspect that she lied to the Inspecter General of the Treasury Department.
More than 30 lawmakers sent a letter to President Trump last week calling for Obama’s IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen to step down from his post before the end of his term, Fox News reported.