The powerful House Ways and Means Committee will get everything from disgraced former IRS official Lois Lerner’s email account since a few weeks before Barack Obama became president.
And Republican committee members are hoping they’ll find a smoking gun tying the Obama administration to the years-long scheme to play political favorites with nonprofit groups’ tax-exemption applications.
After eight months of back-and-forth stonewalling, the IRS has agreed to turn over the complete contents of Lerner’s email account, along with other documents that two congressional committees have been demanding.
‘If there’s not a Holy Grail email in this round of documents,’ a senior staffer to a Ways and Means committee member told MailOnline, ‘then we’re not going to find it.’
‘Whether that’s because Lerner covered her tracks or because the IRS is shredding documents, we’re probably never going to know.’
The committee’s chairman, Michigan Republican Rep. Dave Camp, seems eager to put his staff to work sifting through thousands of messages in search of an explanation for the program that has been a major embarrassment to the White House.
‘This is a significant step forward and will help us complete our investigation into the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups,’ Camp said Friday.
‘From the few Lerner documents we have received, we know that Washington, DC orchestrated the targeting of groups applying for tax-exempt status, surveillance of existing tax-exempt groups and formed the proposed 501(c)(4) rules designed to push conservative groups out of the public forum.’
Camp warned the IRS in a February 24 letter that he would start issuing subpoenas if the agency didn’t turn over the documents he wanted.
The IRS has proposed a rewrite of its regulations governing communications restrictions on ‘public benefit’ organizations that are exempt from paying federal income taxes.
That redesign of the rules began long before Lerner herself exposed the IRS’s pattern of holding up right-wing groups’ applications, often with dozens of intrusive questions over several years.
The effects of the agency’s desired rule change would be substantial: Organizations would be prohibited from emailing information, or publishing anything online, about candidates’ voting records during the last 60 days before an election.
Tea party groups, which began their rise to prominence five years ago, comprised most of the organizations that the IRS targeted beginning in 2010. Their political free-speech concerns have driven more than 146,000 public comments to the IRS, demanding that the regulatory revisions be scrapped.
Cleta Mitchell, a board member of the American Conservative Union Foundation, said Friday during that organization’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference that the new rules would affect the event where she was speaking.
‘It would mean that in even-numbered years, CPAC could have no speakers who are candidates for office,’ she said, dumbfounded.
Mitchell, an attorney, is representing some of the tea party groups in lawsuits related to the IRS targeting scheme.
The House Oversight Committee, chaired by California Rep. Darrell Issa, has cast a larger public shadow than Ways and Means has on the IRS targeting scandal.
Lerner has appeared before Issa-led hearings twice, both times invoking her Fifth Amendment rights and refusing to testify, despite President Obama’s insistence in a February interview that the IRS displayed ‘not a smidgen of corruption’ in the damaging episode.
Becca Glover Watkins, the Oversight Committee’s communications director, told MailOnline that Issa’s and Camp’s committee staffers are working hand-in-hand.
‘The Oversight Committee and the Ways and Means Committee have worked in partnership during the course of this investigation,’ Watkins said.
‘We expect the IRS will also be delivering a copy [of the complete Lerner files] to the Oversight Committee.’
A spokesperson for the Ways and Means Committee told MailOnline that it was the new IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, who broke the inertia after months of requests.
‘We have been asking for the materials for months, and after many discussions the new IRS Commissioner has said the IRS will comply with the request,’ said the committee’s Sarah Swinehart.
Lerner ‘was clearly at the center of the IRS targeting and was running it out of the Washington, D.C. office,’ she added. ‘We expect her documents to provide a fuller picture of this.’
Koskinen took over the tax agency on December 23, ending a 13-month period during which two interim commissioners served as caretakers.
The IRS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.