Conservative groups have long accused the Obama administration of deliberately and unfairly targeting them for IRS investigation. Now the government has revealed that this was true all along.
The Trump administration has settled lawsuits with one TEA Party and other conservative groups, admitting that Obama did target TEA Party groups exclusively on the basis of their political leanings, according to Fox News.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that the Justice Department had settled lawsuits with TEA Party groups whose tax-exempt status was delayed and challenged by the IRS dating back to 2013 “based solely on their viewpoint or ideology.” The settlements include payments to the plaintiffs as well as an official apology from the IRS.
The IRS first admitted they applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups applying for non-profit status in 2013, which drew considerable public attention. Lois Lerner, head of the Exempt Organizations unit, took the brunt of the public scrutiny as she became a poster name for the scandal, although other IRS officials were involved as well.
Mr. Sessions admitted that the IRS specifically targeted groups with names involving “TEA Party” or “Patriots” to additional and “inappropriate criteria” to “screen” applicants. “The IRS’s use of these criteria as a basis for heightened scrutiny was wrong and should never have occurred,” Sessions said in a statement Thursday. “It is improper for the IRS to single out groups for different treatment based on their names or ideological positions.”
“The IRS admits that its treatment of Plaintiffs during the tax-exempt determination process, including screening their applications based on their names or policy positions, subjecting those applications to heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays, and demanding some Plaintiffs’ information that TIGTA determined was unnecessary to the agency’s determination of their tax-exempt status, was wrong,” said the IRS in court documents. “For such treatment, the IRS expresses its sincere apology.”
Each of the 400 groups involved in the case will receive a separate payment from the DOJ, a success that attorneys for the groups called “a great day for the First Amendment,” but those attorneys lamented that the case took as long as it did, requiring a new, more sympathetic presidency before it finally came to an end.
Eddie Greim, lead counsel for the conservative groups, said that “For taxpayers to be truly confident that the IRS has changed, it needs to be truthful about its past abuse of power.”
Back in August, a federal judge ordered the IRS to reveal which specific employees were involved in targeting TEA Party groups. It was a move that was highly heralded at the time, with one legal expert saying, “Judge Walton has accomplished more with one ruling than all of the rest of the Federal government—all three branches—over the last six years,” according to Fox News.
The Washington Times reported that the Justice Department under both former President Obama and President Trump initially cleared Ms. Lerner of wrongdoing. However, after further inspection, the Trump administration found that the former executive does indeed bear the blame for this scandal.
Obama’s DOJ targeted TEA Party groups based on their political leanings. Should Obama’s administration explain themselves?
The agreement still needs to be approved by a judge, but with both sides of the case accepting the terms of the deal, there seems little reason why a federal judge would refuse to support the arrangement.
This is a massive win for conservatives as well as First Amendment advocates across the country. Hopefully, it will be the first of many to come in the future.