DOJ now says 1.1 million document database contained legally protected taxpayer information, returns it to IRS
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, today sent a letter to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen demanding more information after new revelations that the IRS transmitted 21 disks, constituting a 1.1 million page database of information from 501(c)(4) tax exempt organizations, to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)in October 2010. After the Justice Department turned over the database to the Oversight Committee this month in response to a subpoena, the Justice Department says it was informed by IRS officials that it contains legally protected taxpayer information that should not have ever been sent to the FBI and it now plans to return the full database to the IRS.
“We were extremely troubled by this new information, and by the fact that the IRS has withheld it from the Committee for over a year,” write Issa and Jordan to IRS Commissioner Koskinen. “We were astonished to learn days ago from the Justice Department that these 21 disks contained confidential taxpayer information protected by federal law. We ask that you immediately produce all material explaining how these disks were prepared and transmitted to the FBI.”
“The IRS’s transmittal of this information to the FBI shows that the IRS took affirmative steps to provide sensitive evidentiary material to law-enforcement officials about the political speech of nonprofits,” the lawmakers continue. “At the very least, this information suggests that the IRS considered the political speech activities of nonprofits to be worthy of investigation by federal law-enforcement officials. The IRS apparently considered political speech by nonprofit groups to be so troublesome that it illegally assisted federal law-enforcement officials in assembling a massive database of the lawful political speech of thousands of American citizens, weeks before the 2010 midterm elections, using confidential taxpayer information.”
In an e-mail dated October 5, 2010, former IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner asked Richard Pilger, an official with the Justice Department’s Election Crimes Branch, about his formatting preference for “the disks we spoke about.” Pilger forwarded Lerner’s e-mail to an FBI agent, writing, “This is incoming data re 501c4 issues. Does FBI have a format preference?” He then responded to Lerner, “Thanks Lois – FBI says Raw format is best because they can put it into their systems like excel.”
Despite an intensive investigation of targeting, the IRS had not disclosed to Congressional investigators that Lerner had sent a massive database of tax exempt organizations to the FBI for scrutiny. Investigators only learned about the existence of the database last month in an interview with Pilger, who had discussed the possibility of prosecuting tax exempt organizations that engaged in political activity.
The letter to the IRS Commissioner continues, “Despite two Committee subpoenas, the IRS has not produced material relating to these 21 disks and all associated information… The subpoena [to the IRS] created a legal requirement on you, as the Commissioner of the IRS, to identify and produce all subpoenaed material in an expeditious manner. Your choice to withhold this highly relevant material obstructs the Committee’s ongoing oversight obligations – especially when this information implicates violations of federal law.”
The letter requests the IRS immediately provide a full and complete explanation as to why information about the disks was withheld, all documents and communications related to the creation and transmittal of the disks, and communications between the IRS and any other agency related to the 21 disks.
Click here to read the complete letter to Commissioner Koskinen.