Boy, did he get a wrong number
Justice Dept. official offers conditional leak of IRS documents, to House GOP staffers.
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Published: Sept. 15, 2014 Updated: 4:34 p.m.
The staff of the House Oversight Committee’s Republican majority received a curious phone call two Fridays ago from Brian Fallon, director of the Justice Department’s office of public affairs.
Mr. Fallon confided that he had certain documents pertaining to the Internal Revenue Service scandal, which had been requested by Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa.
He asked that staff leak the documents to “selected reporters” – affording Attorney General Eric Holder’s spokesman an opportunity to publicly downplay their significance – before he handed them over to Rep. Issa.
It was an artful plan by Mr. Fallon, which he almost certainly would have pulled off but for one slip up: He called Rep. Issa’s staff when he meant instead to call staff for Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee’s ranking Democratic member. Mr. Fallon’s phone call confirmed suspicions that Rep. Cummings has been running interference for the Justice Department.
It also suggests to us that the President Obama’s attorney general is less interested in getting to the bottom of the IRS scandal – in which conservative groups were targeted for special scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status routinely conferred to liberal groups – than he is in containing the episode’s political fallout.
The documents that prompted Mr. Fallon’s misdialed phone call concerned former Justice Department lawyer Andrew Strelka, who previously worked for Lois Lerner, who headed the scandalized IRS office that placed conservative groups on the agency’s “Be on the Lookout List.”
One of those groups was Z Street, a Philadelphia-based pro-Israel organization, which was informed by Ms. Lerner’s shop that it was targeted for special scrutiny because its views “contradict those of the administration,” Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal charges.
Ms. Lowenthal’s group filed a lawsuit in 2010 against the IRS – Z Street v. Koskinen. And of all the attorneys the Justice Department could have assigned to represent the IRS in the suit, Mr. Strelka was one of those chosen. Mr. Issa’s committee is understandably interested in speaking to Mr. Strelka, who worked directly for Ms. Lerner, and whose participation on the Justice Department’s defense team in Z Street constituted an obvious conflict of interest. But Mr. Strelka has been nowhere to be found. The Justice Department told Oversight Committee staff – the same staff Mr. Fallon mistakenly phoned – that Mr. Strelka is no longer on the payroll. But Justice has not provided contact information for its former counsel of record in the Z Street suit.
That’s the kind of ducking and dodging – in legal parlance, a better term would be “obstruction of justice” – that has marked the Justice Department’s investigation of the IRS scandal since Mr. Holder announced it 15 months ago.
Indeed, about the only things we know at this point is that Mr. Holder decided more than six months ago that no one would face criminal charges stemming from the IRS scandal – not even Ms. Lerner. And that the attorney general sees no need to turn over the investigation to an independent counsel.
Well, we take issue with Mr. Holder on both counts.
We think the suspicious loss of Ms. Lerner’s emails, as well as the destruction of her BlackBerry after a congressional investigation was launched, could very well be evidence of a criminal cover-up. We also think that the Justice Department investigation of the IRS scandal is so compromised – as evidenced by Mr. Fallen’s unwtting phone call – that Mr. Holder needs to turn it over to an independent counsel.