Federal judge threatens to hold IRS's Koskinen, Justice Dept. attorneys in contempt over Lerner email stalling
Fed up with stalling and failure to follow orders he issued regarding the disclosure of status reports and recovered emails of Lois Lerner, US District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan yesterday threatened to hold the IRS Commissioner and Justice Department attorneys in contempt of court. Ordinarily, this would mean jail for the officials. Judicial Watch reports:
Judicial Watch announced that U.S District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan today threatened to hold the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department attorneys in contempt of court after the IRS failed to produce status reports and newly recovered emails of Lois Lerner, former director of the Exempt Organizations Unit of the IRS, as he had ordered on July 1, 2015.
During the a status hearing today [July 29], Sullivan warned that the failure to follow his order was serious and the IRS and Justice Department’s excuses for not following his July 1 order were “indefensible, ridiculous, and absurd.” He asked the IRS’ Justice Department lawyer Geoffrey Klimas, “Why didn’t the IRS comply” with his court order and “why shouldn’t the Court hold the Commissioner of the IRS in contempt.” Judge Sullivan referenced his contempt findings against Justice Department prosecutors in the prosecution of late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and reminded the Justice Department attorney he had the ability to detain him for contempt. Warning he would tolerate no further disregard of his orders, Judge Sullivan said, “I will haul into court the IRS Commissioner to hold him personally into contempt.”
That last threat is highly unusual, and could even mean jail. However, in the case of the prosecutors of Ted Stevens, unfortunately, no jail time was ever ordered.
Paul Mirengoff of Powerline explains the July 1 order being flouted:
In that order, Sullivan directed the IRS to begin producing, every week, the nearly 1,800 newly recovered Lerner emails responsive to Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The IRS did not produce any Lerner emails until July 15. It also failed to provide Judicial Watch the status report regarding the Lerner email production that Sullivan had ordered.
An old joke about federal judges goes:
Q: What’s the difference between God and a federal judge?
A: God doesn’t think he’s a federal judge.
I am old enough to remember what happened to the Nixon administration when federal judge John Sirica issued a subpoena for White House records that were subject to a claim of executive privilege. There was already a special prosecutor in that case, who brought the matter to the Supreme Court. In the current instance, there is no special prosecutor, but defiance of a federal court order is serious business. Federal judges do not stand idly by when their orders are flouted.
Probably not coincidentally, Senator Ted Cruz yesterday, at a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee hearing on the IRS during which he grilled IRS commissioner Koskinen, drew a comparison to Watergate.
Andrew McCarthy of National Review linked to his statement:
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the IRS scandal today, Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas), in his capacity as chairman of the relevant subcommittee, gave a hard-hitting opening statement, comparing the revenue agency’s actual abuses of political opponents during the Obama presidency to Richard Nixon’s unsuccessful attempt to use the agency to target political adversaries. The video is here; the transcript follows: We are here today convening this hearing for two unfortunate reasons. The main reason we are here is because we have a broken tax system in this country. Our income tax system today, embodied in the IRS, hurts the American dream. It takes money out of the pockets of hardworking Americans. It reduces their take-home pay. It stifles economic growth. It keeps small businesses from becoming big businesses. And it’s created a labyrinth of credits and deductions that empowers politicians at the expense of hardworking Americans. The other reason we are here is because with the exponential growth of the tax code, with the unbelievable complexity of our current tax system, we have seen the creation of an entity that I believe is no longer serving the interest of the American people. The IRS has been considered, by the American people, to be an abusive agency for so long that, for many Americans, it has become the embodiment of what’s wrong with government and what’s wrong with Washington. As it has metastasized over the decades, taking more and more out of the pockets of hardworking taxpayers, the IRS has become more and more powerful. There are few things more terrifying to an American citizen than the IRS come knocking at your door. But the last six and a half years, it’s taken an even darker turn. Students of history are aware that Richard Nixon attempted to use the IRS to target his political enemies. That was wrong. It was an abuse of power, and it is to the credit to the professionals at the IRS that they refused President Nixon’s demands that the IRS be turned into a political weapon. The last six and half years, unfortunately, the IRS did not demonstrate that same courage, that same integrity, that same willingness to stand up to political demands. The available evidence indicates that not only did the Obama Administration attempt to use the IRS to silence, to punish its political enemies, but the Obama Administration succeeded in doing so. When Richard Nixon abused his power he was rightly condemned by both parties for an abuse of power. And indeed, in the early days of the IRS scandal, the same was true of the Obama Administration. On the day that the Inspector General report to the Department of the Treasury broke, President Obama said he was outraged. He said, ‘I am angry, and the American people have a right to be angry as well.’ I don’t say this often, but I agree emphatically with President Obama. The American people have a right to be angry when an instrument of the federal government is used as a partisan cudgel to punish, to silence citizens that dare speak out against their government, that dare take a differing policy view than the current party in power. And yet, although the American people have a right to be angry, many months have passed, years have passed, and not one single person has been indicted. Years have passed and many of the victims of illegal targeting have yet to be interviewed. Some might think that is curious. If the President of the United States was telling the truth when he said he was angry, one would expect action from prosecutors. And yet, subsequently, the rather stunning news broke that the Obama Justice Department put in charge of the investigation a major Democratic donor who had given over $6,000 personally to President Obama and the Democrats. And wonder of wonder, marvel of marvels, when you ask a major Democratic donor to investigate whether the IRS is targeting the political enemies of the Obama White House, nothing happens. Twice we’ve seen Lois Lerner come before the United States Congress, raise her hand, and plead the Fifth. And that is her right under the Constitution, under the Bill of Rights, but it’s worth understanding what that means. When you are pleading the Fifth, you are saying, ‘If I answer your questions, I may well implicate myself in criminal conduct.’ A senior official of the IRS, twice saying, ‘If I answer your questions, I could end up in the slammer.’ Anyone who cares about integrity in government should be horrified at senior government officials saying, ‘I can’t tell you what I did, because criminal liability may result.’ And yet, those protestations of how angry the President was, how angry the people should have been somehow faded into the mist. With a pattern, we’ve seen of scandal, after scandal, after scandal, of this Administration. On day one, the President always says he’s angry, and the next step kicks in. The Administration begins stonewalling, begins denying witnesses, begins resisting turning over documents, begins suddenly saying, ‘We’ve lost Lois Lerner’s emails.’ Wonder of wonder; don’t expect a government agency to actually keep records of emails being sent by senior government officials. ‘We’ve destroyed the hard drives!’ I have to say, Richard Nixon’s ghost must have been smiling at that protestation. Tricky Dick understood well destroying emails. In his day, it was erasing tape, but it was much the same. We should expect accountability from our government, and we should expect to know the extent to which the federal government continues to target those who appear to be political enemies of the president. There is a reason there is a growing hue and cry across the country to abolish the IRS altogether. Part of it is simply the abuses of the tax code, the burdens on job creation, the burdens on people struggling to achieve the American dream. Part of it is the complexity that nobody, it seems, understands fully what the tax code says. Even those with advanced, professional training have to hire specialized accountants to keep up with the vast complexity. But the real reason why more and more Americans in all fifty states are saying enough is enough, is we should not have a federal government agency that becomes an intimidator, going after citizens, going after citizen groups, violating their First Amendment right. No politician has the right to use the machinery of the Executive Branch to target their political enemies. When Richard Nixon did it, it was wrong and he rightly resigned from the presidency in disgrace for his abuse of power. I’m reminded of noted liberal constitutional law professor, Jonathan Turley, who voted for President Obama in 2008. He is no conservative. And yet, Professor Turley has told Congress that President Obama has become the embodiment of the imperial presidency. That Barack Obama has become the President that Richard Milhous Nixon always wished he could be. This hearing is about ensuring accountability at the IRS, both for past misconduct that continues to be covered up, to be stonewalled, that continues to lack any accountability. And also for current and future practice, to answer the question: What is happening today? Right now, who is being targeted by the Obama IRS? Is it limited to 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) groups? Or is it targeting individuals? I cannot tell you how many individuals across this country, as I travel the country, relay stories that say, ‘You know, I got involved in the last election, the 2012 election. I supported, I raised money for Mitt Romney. I raised money for Rick Perry. I raised money for some Republican candidate. And I’ve been in business 20, 30, 40, years – I’ve never been audited. As soon as I was published in the papers, the tax man comes knocking.’ Now one or two anecdotal stories does not prove a pattern. But it’s incumbent on the Senate, its incumbent on Congress to ask, ‘Is there a pattern?’ If the IRS has become a partisan arm of the Democratic National Committee, there can be no stronger argument for ending the IRS as we know it, so that no Administration, Democrat or Republican, can use the IRS to target its political opponents. If a Republican president did this, as Richard Nixon tried, I can assure you I would be every bit as loud and clear that it is an abuse of power. And for a Democratic Administration to do this and to find Democratic defenders of this abuse of power is profoundly dangerous to the liberty that is the basis for the incredible miracle we call the United States of America.
The big difference between Watergate then and the IRS political targeting is that the Justice Department was not nearly so corrupt then as it is now. John Hinderaker of Powerline writes:
If you ask yourself, what are the worst sins of the Obama administration, there are lots of candidates. But I think the administration’s lawlessness must be first on the list. An important aspect of Obama’s scofflaw philosophy has been his transformation of the Department of Justice into a partisan tool.
Never in our history, to my knowledge, has DOJ been so politicized. This is really a tragedy. Federal lawyers now routinely appear in court to explain why administration officials have ignored, or laughed at, judges’ orders. Never before has this happened. The corrupt, incompetent and insanely politicized Obama administration will leave a shameful legacy. Some aspects of that history can be reversed without much difficulty by a new administration, but I fear that his politicization of the Department of Justice will leave a bitter legacy that may persist for a long, long time.
There is a remedy for this, and it is impeachment. However, that will not happen, so what is left is the voters in 2016, who will be only as informed as the media make them.