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DOJ: No criminal charges in IRS Tea Party probe

Workers enter the IRS building in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 11, 2014.

MOLLY RILEY/MCCLATCHYDC/TNS

By KEVIN JOHNSON AND GREGORY KORTE | USA Today | Published: October 24, 2015

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Justice Department officials announced Friday that they would not seek criminal charges in a long-running inquiry into whether the IRS and former official Lois Lerner targeted conservative groups, including the Tea Party, for increased scrutiny in applications for tax-exempt status.

"Our investigation uncovered substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia leading to the belief by many tax-exempt applicants that the IRS targeted them based on their political viewpoints,'' Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said Friday in a notification letter to Congress.

"But poor management is not a crime. We found no evidence that that any IRS official acted based on political discriminatory, corrupt or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution.''

Lerner was the central figure in the IRS’s decision to hold up — often for years — the applications of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. The “targeting” began in 2010 during the emergence of the Tea Party movement, when Lerner was the director of Exempt Organizations for the IRS. A 2011 list of groups held up for review obtained by USA TODAY showed that 80% were conservative, although a number of liberal groups had similar problems.

Lerner's lawyers said they were "gratified but not surprised by today’s news."

"Anyone who takes a serious and impartial look at the facts would reach the same conclusion as the Justice Department," said attorney Paul Hynes. "Ms. Lerner is pleased to have this matter finally resolved and looks forward to moving forward with her life."

Lerner was among a number of senior IRS officials, including former Commissioner Douglas Shulman and former acting Commissioner Steven Miller, who "voluntarily participated in extensive interviews'' with prosecutors, Kadzik wrote to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and  Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the panel's ranking Democrat. "Throughout the investigation, not a single IRS employee reported any allegation, concern or suspicion that the handling of tax-exempt applications or other IRS function was motivated by political bias, discriminatory intent or corruption.''

Kadzik acknowledged "frustration'' with the IRS's information management system, particularly last year's disclosure that copies of Lerner's past emails sought in the investigation may have been among electronic communications that were "inadvertently destroyed'' by IRS information technology employees.

"Despite these shortcomings, we are confident that we were able to compile a substantially complete set of the pertinent documents,'' Kadzik said, adding that investigators also searched Lerner's "entire computer and Blackberry'' and obtained "complete email (archives) of other IRS employees central to the investigation.''

Kadzik said the investigation "revealed no evidence that the IRS's document collection and retention problems...were caused by a deliberate attempt to conceal or destroy information.''

Republican lawmakers, including California Rep. Darrell Issa, who led hearings into the IRS's treatment of conservative groups, rebuked the Justice action.

“The Justice Department’s decision to close the IRS targeting investigation without a single charge or prosecution is a low point of accountability in an administration that is better known for punishing whistle-blowers than the abuse and misconduct they expose,'' Issa said in a statement Friday. "Giving Lois Lerner a free pass only reinforces the idea that government officials are above the law and that there is no consequence for wrongdoing.”

Goodlatte, who had called for a special counsel to pursue the investigation, asserted that the Obama administration had "repeatedly and publicly undermined'' the IRS inquiry.

"As far back as last year, unnamed (Justice) officials leaked information to the media suggesting that the department did not plan to file criminal charges over the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups,'' Goodlatte said. “The Department of Justice investigation did conclude that the actions of IRS personnel involved in the scandal was ‘disquieting’ and in that we all agree.  However, the American people should be concerned that this kind of politicization continues to go unchecked by this administration and a Justice Department charged with pursuing wrongdoing.''

Conyers, meanwhile, said closing the investigation is "consistent'' with the findings of previous government reviews.

"It is time Republicans end this partisan witch-hunt and focus on matters that impact the lives of the American people,'' Conyers said.

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