Skip to comments.Defending the IRS [A man who once worked for Lois Lerner is representing the agency in court]
Posted on 07/22/2014 3:49:25 AM PDT by markomalley
Investigations of the IRS are taking place not only in Congress but also in court. One case, which has developed slowly since it was filed in 2010, reveals much about both the long reach of the agency and the interwoven nature of the broader federal bureaucracy.
Defending IRS commissioner John Koskinen against the claims of the pro-Israel group Z Street is Andrew Strelka and before joining the Department of Justices civil-trial section, Strelka worked at the IRS for Lois Lerner, who was then the agencys head of exempt organizations. As it happens, this is the very IRS division at which the mistreatment of Z Street is alleged to have occurred and Strelka worked there at the very time Z Streets application for tax-exempt status was being considered.
Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus tells National Review Online of the situation: Nothing surprises me.
She filed the groups application for tax exemption in 2009, and Z Street, whose mission is to educate people about Zionism, sued the IRS for alleged violations of its First Amendment rights the following year. According to Marcus, an IRS employee told her Z Streets application was sent to Washington for extra scrutiny because the group was connected with Israel and expressed opposition to the Obama administrations foreign policy. (An IRS agent subsequently told the House Oversight Committee that the applications of pro-Israel groups were considered specialty cases and routinely sent to an antiterrorism unit for extra screening.) Though the IRS has attempted since 2010 to get the case thrown out of court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled in late May that it will move forward, and the agency will have to defend itself in court. Z Street has yet to receive its tax-exempt status.
While at the IRS, documents indicate, Strelka was kept abreast of the agencys targeting practices. He is one of 14 employees who received an e-mail from agency attorney Ronald Shoemaker on March 17, 2010, instructing them to be on the lookout for a tea party case. Shoemaker told the group that if they received any applications involving an exemption for an organization having to do with tea party [sic], let me know. Status reports from July and September 2010 tracking the progress of particular applications show that Strelka was handling a case that had been designated to Group 7825, which at the time handled tea-party applications.
Strelka who did not respond to an e-mail seeking an interview was working at the IRS as a part of the Presidential Management Fellows Program, a two-year program that aims to groom government leaders in part by placing participants in jobs throughout the federal government. According to his LinkedIn profile, after completing his two years at the IRS, Strelka left for the Justice Departments civil-trial section in August 2010 and was detailed in the White House Counsels office for seven months, from last December until June.
After Strelka left the IRS, Lerner, it appears, remained a mentor. In an August 2012 e-mail, he told Lerner, I cherished my time in the E[xempt] O[rganizations] family and I owe a big thanks to you for hiring me. Lerner responded that she was glad we could be a part of your success. She also noted, Weve had a lot of congressional attention this year. It is unclear whether she was referring to inquiries from the House Oversight Committee about the criteria being used to screen applications for tax exemption, which began in March 2012.
Strelkas involvement with the Z Street litigation is not the first case of a former IRS employee stumbling into a role defending the agency. Susanne Sachsman Grooms today serves as the chief counsel for Democratic representative Elijah Cummings (Md.) on the Oversight Committees minority side. Cummings has been vocal in his view that the committees investigation into the IRS targeting scandal should come to an end, and his public exchanges with committee chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) on the matter have become something of a public spectacle. Between 2008 and 2011, Grooms worked for the IRS as an adviser to the deputy commissioner for services and enforcement and then as a senior counselor to the chief of criminal investigations. Her boss at the time, the deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, was Steven Miller, who went on to be IRS commissioner from November 2012 until his resignation in the wake of the targeting scandal.
As Z Streets case against the IRS proceeds, the agency will be forced to go through the discovery process, turning over relevant documents to opposing counsel, and to defend its disparate treatment of applications on the basis of the viewpoints expressed in them. It has one advantage: Its lawyer is up to speed.