It turns out Lois Lerner is as bad at destroying all incriminating evidence as she is at correctly pleading the Fifth.
Earlier this evening, the House Ways and Means Committee released e-mail evidence showing that Lois Lerner threatened to investigate Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and his wife in December of 2012 over an e-mail inviting the senator and his wife to speak at and attend a seminar. Lerner was invited to the same event (the specific event and sender of the invitation were redacted), and it appears that another IRS staffer, attorney Matthew Giuliano, solicited the invitation for Lerner. The invitation for Grassley appeared to have been inadvertently included in the e-mail, prompting Lerner’s audit threat.
Lerner jumped on the e-mail, and suggested that the organization soliciting her and Grassley’s participation should be “referred to Exam,” shorthand for an investigation and audit by the IRS:
In response to her threat to have the IRS investigate Grassley and his wife, Giuliano wrote that he was “not sure” if Grassley and his wife should be investigated, and noted that it wasn’t clear they had done anything wrong. The issue that Lerner initially raised — whether the inviting organization could pay Grassley’s wife to attend — was a non-sequitur. There was nothing illegal about it. And even if it were illegal, the only way to investigate and prosecute it would be to examine the tax returns of both the paying organization and the recipient.
“We would need to wait for: (i) Grassley to accept and attend the speaking arrangement, and (ii) then determine whether [redacted] issues him a 1099,” Giuliano wrote. “And even without the 1099, it would be Grassley who would need to report the income on his 1040.”
In other words: even if Lerner’s laughably ignorant legal assertion was accurate, the audit threatened by Lerner would have to include an audit of Grassley’s personal tax returns. More perplexing, though, is that it took another staffer to explain to Lerner — the head of IRS enforcement of non-profit organizations — how basic tax laws actually work. Lerner concluded the released e-mail conversation by pulling the adult equivalent of taking your marbles and going home.
“Don’t think I want to be on stage with Grassley on this issue,” she wrote. Well, then.
The new line on the scandal taken by the Journolist crowd is that this is much ado about nothing. After all, a major government official with the power to destroy the lives of her agency’s subjects with a stroke of her pen only threatened to sic the IRS on a senator who just happened to oppose the political agenda of her patron political saint:
New IRS scandal: Lois Lerner briefly considering, and then not going ahead with, a referral re Grassley?http://t.co/yNemodHBWW
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) June 25, 2014
OMG NO BIG DEAL LOL BENGHAZI GUYS, basically.
Because there’s nothing at all creepy about a law enforcement agency threatening to use its powers to silence and intimidate its political opponents. There’s nothing wrong with a cop threatening to investigate you if you get in his way, as long as he only threatens it. There’s nothing wrong with a boss threatening to fire you if you snitch about his illicit activities as long as he never really follows through with it. Intimidation is only wrong once its threats are carried out. Abuse of power only counts as abuse when you can find a visible bruise.
Lerner’s threats, however, are terrifying regardless of whether she carried them out. What better example of absolute power corrupting absolutely do you need than a blithely issued threat by a government functionary to investigate a sitting lawmaker for the alleged crime of…giving a speech? A speech at an event that Lerner herself was invited to attend, and an invitation that was solicited by Lerner’s own staff.
Now, while senators are not deserving of any more or less protection than you or I, Lerner’s flippant willingness to unleash the IRS attack dogs on a powerful senator doesn’t give one much hope that she or her agency would be all that respectful of the protections afforded us regular plebes.
If Lois Lerner was willing to take on a US Senator with oversight responsibility for her agency, imagine what she'd do to you.
— DrewMTips (@DrewMTips) June 25, 2014
IRS official who emailed colleague about applying for OFA job also suggested audit of GOP Senator. Nothing suspicious here.
— Brian Faughnan (@BrianFaughnan) June 26, 2014
Unfortunately, the IRS response to the Grassley revelation doesn’t provide any more confidence that the agency cares at all about the implications of its illegal actions:
#IRS on Lerner/Grassley: The IRS has checks and balances in place to ensure the fairness and integrity of the audit process.
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) June 25, 2014
Ah, yes, checks and balances. The same checks and balances that prevented the illegal targeting from happening in the first place. The same checks and balances that prevented vital, subpoenaed evidence from being destroyed. The same checks and balances that made sure Congress was informed of the “missing” e-mails once it was discovered they had gone “missing.” The same checks and balances that prevented Lerner and her goons from illegally leaking the confidential taxpayer information of Obama’s political opponents to the Obama administration’s political allies. Yes, those checks and balances.
Threats, schmetts. Our nation is clearly in the best of hands.