By Cathy Burke
WASHINGTON D.C. – Startling new emails from the woman at the center of the IRS tea party-targeting scandal show that in 2012 she suggested referring Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley for a possible audit.
The email exchange — released by the Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday — took place in December 2012, and shows that Lois Lerner, former director of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Unit, mistakenly received an invitation to speak at an event. Her invitation was meant for Grassley.
Lerner and Grassley were both invited to speak at a seminar, ABC News noted. The group mixed up their tickets and Grassley’s invitation indicated the group was also paying for Grassley’s wife to travel and attend the seminar. Grassley’s wife, Barbara, is a lobbyist.
The House Ways and Means Committee did not name the group hosting the seminar, but said instead of forwarding the invitation to Grassley’s office, Lerner immediately suggested that the issue should be referred for examination.
Lerner commented in an email to a colleague that the organizers of the event “inappropriately offered to pay” for Grassley’s wife, and suggested Grassley be referred for a possible audit.
The colleague, Matthew Giuliano, a legal counsel at the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division of the IRS, later shot the idea down, the exchange shows.
“I think the offer to pay for Grassley’s wife is income to Grassley, and not prohibited on its face,” he wrote, according to the email chain.
After hearing from Giuliano, Lerner dropped the idea, but not without the snarky observation that she wouldn’t “want to be on stage with Grassley on this issue.”
Grassley was stunned.
“This kind of thing fuels the deep concerns many people have about political targeting by the IRS and by officials at the highest levels,” Grassley said. “It’s very troubling that a simple clerical mix-up could get a taxpayer immediately referred for an IRS exam without any due diligence from agency officials.”
The IRS said it couldn’t comment “due to taxpayer confidentiality provisions.”
“As a general matter, the IRS has checks and balances in place to ensure the fairness and integrity of the audit process,” the IRS said. “Audits cannot be initiated solely by personal requests or suggestions by any one individual inside the IRS.”
The IRS contends it lost an unknown number of Lerner’s emails because her computer crashed in 2011, while Republican lawmakers have accused the revenue collection agency of a cover-up.
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, meanwhile, intends to extend his year-long IRS investigation by issuing a subpoena to the Federal Election Commission for all communications involver Lerner from Jan 1, 1986 to the present, CNN reported.
The search is the broadest yet by Issa and congressional Republicans, CNN noted.
Lerner joined the FEC in 1981; Issa’ subpoena focuses on her work when she became the head of the FEC’s enforcement division.
The emails released Wednesday were among thousands that have been turned over to congressional investigators.
“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,” said Michigan Republican Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“At every turn, Lerner was using the IRS as a tool for political purposes in defiance of taxpayer rights.”
Grassley had been an outspoken critic of the way the IRS policed tax-exempt groups.
The Ways and Means Committee is just one of three congressional panels investigating the way the IRS processed applications for tax-exempt status. The Justice Department is also investigating.
Also on Wednesday, a group of Republican senators — including Grassley — on the Senate Finance Committee said they want to expand a Senate probe to look at how the IRS lost the cache of Lerner emails.