How the IRS Targeting Scandal was Exposed
- July 21st, 2014
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What was the chain of events that led up to the IRS targeting scandal, and how was it all uncovered? We’ve put together a timeline of the events so that you can better understand the news that is currently circulating!
After the decision made in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, which established that the government is unable to restrict political independent expenditures made by corporations, associations, or labor unions, there was an incredible influx in 501(c)(4) status applicants—from 1,591 in 2010 to 3,398 in 2012, according to the IRS. Due to the subsequent ability for individuals to skirt the fiscal cap for politically-affiliated donations by donating to non-profit organizations instead, the IRS felt a need for heightened scrutiny of 501(c)(4) applications.
While it’s unquestionable that there was a need for combing through the applications with a closer eye, the glaring problem with how it all played out is that the non-profit groups that were flagged for additional review were chosen due to their assumed political beliefs.
As a result, this IRS ultimately began a phishing expedition that targeted groups that were linked to many conservative groups, especially The Tea Party. In 2011, Lois Lerner, the Director of Exempt Organizations for the IRS, discovered that the agency was flagging groups whose titles included terms such as “tea party,” “patriot,” and “9/12 project.” Word continued to float around the agency for two years regarding the additional scrutiny being applied to any Tea Party-affiliated non-profit organizations’ applications, but it was not brought to the attention of any outside parties until April 2013.
In May of 2013, Lerner admitted to and apologized for the additional review of conservative groups’ 501(c)(4) status applications. News of the controversy created warranted outrage among many. Republicans began a thorough investigation at that point, which continues to this day.
Recent news has brought us back to the melee surrounding the IRS targeting scandal, as IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was brought before Congress to refute accusations of obstruction regarding the Republican investigation of the agency. During said investigation, it has been found that thousands of emails between January 2009 and April 2011, both written and received by Lerner, have gone missing. Last week, the IRS stated that due to a computer crash sometime during 2011, those files are unable to be recovered.
Koskinen promised to provide all of Lerner’s emails to the Oversight Committee this past spring, but although he learned that many of her emails had been lost in April, he didn’t report the news to Congress until June 13. During the recent congressional hearing, chairman of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said, “Mr. Commissioner, at a minimum you didn’t tell the whole truth that you knew on that day,” with regard to the information that he provided to the committee in March.
The Oversight Committee has requested that Lerner testify at both of their hearings thus far, but she has declined, invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. With Lerner’s absence from the hearings, Koskinen has been left to answer for the agency on his own, and Republicans have made their desire to uncover the truth quite clear.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, put Koskinen on blast about “spoliation of evidence,” which is when someone intentionally or negligently withholds, hides, alters, or destroys evidence that is relevant to a legal proceeding. In such circumstances, the finder of fact is allowed to draw inferences based on the spoliation. “When a party has a duty to preserve evidence or records, and they fail to do so, there is a negative inference that is drawn from their failure to preserve the evidence. It’s common sense, right?” explained Gowdy, and continued, “If you destroyed something, the jury has a right to infer that whatever you destroyed would not have been good for you. Or else every litigate would destroy whatever evidence was detrimental to them, agreed?”
Gowdy wasn’t the only representative who spoke out for the people regarding the questionable nature of the IRS’s activities. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, brought up the position of power from which the IRS stands, and how hypocritical they seem for asking so much of the American people, while they appear unable to meet the same standards. “You are the Internal Revenue Service. You can reach into the lives of hardworking taxpayers, and with a phone call, email, or a letter, you can turn their lives upside down,” Ryan said. “You ask taxpayers to hang onto seven years of their personal tax information in case they’re ever audited, and you can’t keep six months’ worth of employee emails?” Ryan wasn’t done explaining the reason he doesn’t believe anything that Koskinen has to say, and continued, “If we are investigating criminal wrongdoing, targeting of people based on their political beliefs, and the emails in question are lost because of a ‘hard drive crash’ that is apparently unrecoverable, which a lot of IT professionals would question, and you don’t tell us about it until we ask you about it, that is not forthcoming.”