Former IRS official Lois Lerner suggested referring U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for an audit in 2012, according to new emails released by the Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.
The emails from December 2012 show Lerner, the former director of the IRS Exempt Organisations Unit, mistakenly received an invitation to speak at an event. Her invitation was meant for Grassley.
Lerner said in an email to a colleague that the organisers of the event “inappropriately offered to pay” for Grassley’s wife, and suggested he be referred for a possible audit. Her colleague — Matthew Giuliano, a legal counsel at the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division of the IRS — subsequently shot her down.
“I think the offer to pay for Grassley’s wife is income to Grassley, and not prohibited on its face,” Giuliano wrote.
After receiving the reply from Giuliano, Lerner dropped the suggestion. However, she added that she wouldn’t “want to be on stage with Grassley on this issue.”
Grassley’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The IRS has come under renewed scrutiny from congressional investigators in recent weeks. The new attention comes amid its admission two weeks ago that it lost two years’ worth emails from Lerner, who was the key official at the center of a congressional probe relating to the agency’s targeting of conservative groups’ tax-exempt status.
Lerner headed the IRS division that processed applications for tax-exempt status. The agency caused a fury last year when it admitted it had targeted certain conservative and Tea Party-aligned groups for extra scrutiny when examining their applications. So far, investigators have not found any evidence that anyone outside the IRS was aware of the targeting or was involved in carrying it out.
Lerner was the official who first admitted the agency’s conduct. She left the IRS last year amid the resulting firestorm. However, she has refused to testify, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination multiple times when subpoenaed before congressional hearings. In May, she was held in contempt of Congress.
Rep. Dave Camp (R-Michigan), the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, called the new emails “shocking.”
“We have seen a lot of unbelievable things in this investigation, but the fact that Lois Lerner attempted to initiate an apparently baseless IRS examination against a sitting Republican United States Senator is shocking,” Camp said in a statement. “At every turn, Lerner was using the IRS as a tool for political purposes in defiance of taxpayer rights.”
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