Lois Lerner, who presided over and then apologized for the IRS targeting of conservatives before the 2012 election, has since professed not to know much about the Tea Party groups her agency went after.
“No, not really,” she said when asked if she understood what the Tea Party movement was, according to a recently unsealed 2017 court deposition obtained by The Heartlander.
“Did you know the kind of issues that they advocated for and against?” asked Edward Greim, a plaintiffs’ lawyer in a class action lawsuit against the IRS.
“Not really,” Lerner responded, later claiming, “I don’t really pay attention. … I knew there was a Tea Party movement. … I didn’t pay much attention to it.”
“What is your understanding about the activities that these groups conducted between 2009 and 2013, other than what you’ve just told us?” inquired Greim.
“I don’t have any understanding,” Lerner claimed under oath.
Her declarations of ignorance run counter to both the national spotlight on the Tea Party movement and months of repeated emailed reports Lerner received from staff about the various conservative groups seeking nonprofit status from the Exempt Organizations Unit of the Internal Revenue Service that Lerner headed.
The IRS was accused of, then later admitted to, denying such organizations tax-exempt status, or delaying approval until the conservative groups couldn’t affect the 2012 re-election of President Barack Obama.
“Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS unit that oversees tax-exempt groups, said organizations that included the words ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot in their applications for tax-exempt status were singled out for additional reviews,” USA Today reported at the time of her 2013 public apology.
By the time of her apology, only 130 of the original 300 tax-exempt applications that had been put into a “bucket” for additional scrutiny at the IRS had been approved.
In both her public statements in 2013 and in the 2017 deposition, Lerner seemed to blame low-level employees working under her in Cincinnati for the targeting of conservatives.
“It was an error in judgment, and it was not appropriate, but that’s what they did,” Lerner said to reporters. “I think they were insensitive, or less sensitive than they should have been.”
Lerner wouldn’t say how many workers were involved, or if there had been disciplinary actions taken against them.
Yet, Lerner revealed herself in staff emails to be a rank partisan, according to the deposition. In one email just after the election, when told Democrats controlled the Senate, Lerner responded, “”Whoo-hoo. [It] was important to keep the Senate. If it had switched, it would be the same as a [Republican] president.”
In one email, Lerner opined, “Look, my view is that Lincoln was our worst president and not our best. He should have let the South go. We really do seem to have two totally different mindsets.” At another point, she writes, “we don’t need to worry about alien terrorists. It’s our own crazies that will take us down.”
Lerner refused to answer substantive questions about the IRS targeting scandal in testimony before the House, and was held in contempt of Congress. Six Democrats joined all Republicans in holding her in contempt.
Lerner’s silence before Congress, and her professed ignorance of the targeting under her command and control, leaves open the question of how such a sweeping partisan conspiracy could spontaneously arise.