Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

GOP Touts Newly Found Lerner E-Mails in IRS Scandal: Any Smoke in This 'Gun'?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

GOP Touts Newly Found Lerner E-Mails in IRS Scandal: Any Smoke in This 'Gun'?

Article excerpt

A newly uncovered e-mail from Lois Lerner of the IRS - one that congressional Republicans profess is yet another "smoking gun" in their ongoing investigation - will certainly add fuel to claims that the agency targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

But it's not at all clear the new fuel is enough to bring this long-simmering issue to a full boil, just as previous GOP-labeled "smoking guns" have not.

In the e-mail exchange from 2013, Ms. Lerner, the former director of the Exempt Organizations Unit at the Internal Revenue Service, says she is "cautioning folks" at the IRS about how "we need to be cautious about what we say in e-mails." She mentions how members of Congress have been asking for e-mails. She says she flagged colleagues about how e-mails can be electronically searched.

All that was by way of wind-up to asking a practical question to an IRS tech worker: Lerner sought to know if use of an instant- messaging service would be safe from investigative probes. After the tech worker said such messages "are not set to automatically save," Lerner's response was one word: "Perfect."

To Rep. Darrell Issa of California, this exchange qualifies as a "smoking gun." In a moment we'll get to the rationale behind the words of Congressman Issa, the Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee. But here's some context for judging the importance of this new information: In the timeline of Lerner- related events, the April 2013 e-mails come nearer the end than the beginning.

The disproportionate auditing of conservative groups had been well under way during the 2012 election year. And Republicans site evidence - including statements by Cincinnati IRS employees and e- mails released recently to the group Judicial Watch under the Freedom of Information Act - suggesting that the agency's Washington office encouraged targeting conservative groups starting in 2010. That was not long after a Supreme Court ruling served to heighten the political fundraising role of certain tax-exempt groups called 501(c)(4) "social welfare" organizations.

The upshot: Pivotal events in the IRS affair had been unspooling long before the e-mail about instant messaging. …

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