Tea Party groups settle with IRS
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that hundreds of Tea Party groups targeted by the IRS because of their political beliefs will receive an apology from the government and cash compensation.
But some Tea Party groups are unsatisfied, wanting an apology from the IRS itself to prevent future abuses.
One of the settlement agreements, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., officially admits that the IRS singled out groups because of their political beliefs, in defiance of the law. The other settlement, in a class-action lawsuit in Ohio, includes a "generous" payout to more than 400 groups snared, according to a lawyer involved.
"There is no excuse for this conduct," Mr. Sessions said in a statement. "Hundreds of organizations were affected by these actions, and they deserve an apology from the IRS."
As of Thursday morning, however, the groups said they had yet to get such an apology.
"A true reckoning is finally up to the agency itself. Until the IRS itself steps forward to admit what really happened, we cannot have faith that the same abuse won't be repeated again," said Edward Greim, the lawyer who handled the class-action lawsuit for NorCal Tea Party Patriots and more than 400 other groups.
There are still some parts to the cases outstanding.
Mr. Greim and his team managed to depose former senior IRS executive Lois G. Lerner during the four years his case ran, but those transcripts remain sealed along with records of the deposition of another employee, Holly Paz. The two women have told a judge they fear for their safety if their testimony is released.
But on Wednesday the Cincinnati Enquirer asked the court to make those records public, as well as unredacted court documents that refer to the testimony.
The settlements end two separate lawsuits covering more than 450 groups identified by the IRS as having been snared in the targeting.
The vast majority of them are conservative-leaning groups which began to see long delays, intrusive questioning and other illegal scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status as either 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) organizations beginning in 2009.
In the new filings the singled out Ms. Lerner for particular blame in the scheme, saying she "failed" to stop the targeting going on by her employees, and further failed to alert higher-ups at headquarters in Washington – where she also worked – of the problems.
That's a major shift from before, where the Justice Department – far from blaming Ms. Lerner – actually credited her with being a hero, saying she tried to stop the targeting when she became aware of it.
Lerner's ideological leanings were no secret, and it's an open question whether she even wanted to stop the targeting of conservative groups at the IRS Cincinnati office until it became clear that the scandal would be exposed. Even then, the targeting continued for several years, necessitating the rash of lawsuits that will now mostly be dismissed.
The biggest unanswered question is about who originally ordered the targeting. If we believe the Obama Justice Department, it was low-level bureaucrats in the Cincinnati office who took it upon themselves to target conservatives. After nearly seven years of investigations, however, no evidence has emerged that fingers any one specific IRS or White House employee. Since so many emails and documents were "lost" or deliberately destroyed, we'll probably never know.
The settlement, as unsatisfactory to many as it is, at least closes the book on this sordid chapter in the history of the IRS. Will it curtail the IRS from using politics to enforce tax law again? Since no one was punished after this blatant example of political use of the tax agency, I doubt it.