IRS Email Refers to Conservative Targeting As ‘Secret Research Project’

By Ali Meyer | September 9, 2014 | 12:51pm EDT

In this March 5, 2014 file photo, former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official Lois Lerner is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Internal Revenue Service has lost emails from five more employees who are part of congressional probes into the treatment of conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status, the tax service disclosed Friday. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke, File)

(CNSNews.com) -- A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) documents revealed not only that the IRS needlessly solicited conservative groups’ donor lists, but that a top IRS official referred to the targeting as a “secret research project,” according to Judicial Watch, a government watchdog organization.

Judicial Watch released the new IRS documents on Sept. 4, 2014, as a result of its October 2013 FOIA lawsuit, which was “filed against the IRS after the agency refused to respond to four FOIA requests dating back to May, 2013,” said the group.

The new batch of IRS documents reveal “that under former IRS official Lois Lerner, the agency seems to acknowledge having needlessly solicited donor lists from non-profit political groups,” reported Judicial Watch.

In a May 12, 2012, email from IRS Deputy Associate Chief Margo L. Stevens to Lois Lerner, Stevens said, “such information was not needed across-the-board and not used in making the agency’s determination on exempt status.”

A little more than a month later on June 27, 2012, another IRS email thread “revealed that inappropriately obtained donor lists were being used for a ‘secret research project’ and that a top official wanted then-Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller to decide how to handle the issue,” explained Judicial Watch.

This photo taken April 13, 2014 shows the headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in Washington at daybreak. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

The June 27, 2012 email from David L. Fish, IRS’s acting director of Exempt Organizations Rulings and Agreements, to Holly O. Paz, former director of the IRS Office of Rulings and Agreements, and cc’d to Sharon P. Light, Former Advisor of Exempt Organizations Division, reads, “Sarah was apparently not aware of the decision to [redacted] Joe Urban [IRS Technical Advisor, Tax Exempt and Government Entities] had actually started a secret research project on whether we could, consistent with 6104, argue that [redacted].  …

“Joe was quite agitated yesterday when I told him what we’re doing. (He was involved when the initial question was raised, but we didn’t continue reading him in). At one point he started saying that this was a decision for [Acting IRS Commissioner] Steve Miller – I told him we were already doing it, and that I didn’t know whether Lois had already talked to Nikole about this.  Would not be surprised if he already started working on Lois.”

“Then-IRS Commissioner Miller initially testified to Congress on May 17, 2013 that ‘instructions had been given to destroy any donor lists,’ but donor lists were actually produced to the House Ways and Means Committee four months later,” explained Judicial Watch. “The House Ways and Means Committee also announced at a May 7, 2014 hearing that, after scores of conservative groups provided donor information ‘to the IRS, nearly one in ten donors were subject to audit.’”

(AP Photo)

Judicial Watch said that “many of the documents are completely blacked out (or partially redacted) seemingly because they are allegedly ‘pre-decisional’ or ‘deliberative,’ information that might be exempt from disclosure under FOIA. The Obama administration’s decision to withhold this information is completely discretionary and is not required by law.”

“Again, Judicial Watch has uncovered more shocking emails from the IRS, forced out by a lawsuit and a federal court,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

“Now we learn the stunning news that Obama’s IRS had a ‘secret research program’ using illicitly-obtained confidential donor lists of conservative and Tea Party organizations that opposed President Obama’s agenda or reelection," he said.  "With all this IRS abuse, it is no wonder Lois Lerner said that questions by Congress and others were ‘dangerous.’ And it is well past time that President Obama should be held to account about his repeated and recent falsehoods about his IRS scandal.”

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