A senior Justice Department official recently flagged by a U.S. senator in an FBI whistleblower probe into alleged politicization of prosecutions played a key role in the Lois Lerner IRS scandal a decade ago in which conservative Tea Party groups were improperly targeted for scrutiny, government emails and congressional evidence shows.
Richard Pilger, the current chief of the DOJ Elections Crime Branch of the department’s Public Integrity Section, engaged in discussions in 2010 and 2013 with Lerner and other IRS officials about ways to pursue criminal prosecutions of conservative nonprofits, the records show.
The discussion led the FBI, with Pilger’s direct help, to obtain and review 1.1 million pages of documents from conservative groups and even ponder charging the groups with making false statements on their IRS applications as nonprofits because they had engaged in political speech activities, according to congressional investigators.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired then by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), concluded in 2014 that Pilger’s discussions were part of a larger effort by the Obama administration to criminalize political speech by conservative groups that opposed the administration’s agenda.
“These documents suggest that the Department actively considered prosecuting non-profit groups for their political activities,” the final report concluded. “The Department went so far as to meet with the IRS about the investigation and to gather a 1.1 million-page database of information as potential evidentiary material. Even more astounding, the Department considered prosecuting non-profit groups for actions that are legal for 501(c)(4) groups under federal tax law — that is, for engaging in political speech.”
The committee made public emails showing that in spring 2013 Pilger and Lerner discussed an idea Pilger had heard raised by a Democrat in Congress of bringing false statement cases against the conservative groups for the ways they filled out their IRS applications as 501c3 and 501c4 nonprofits.
“I got a call today from Richard Pilger, Director Election Crimes Branch at DOJ,” Lerner wrote IRS colleagues in a May 8, 2013 email obtained by congressional investigators and Just the News. “I know him from contacts from my days there. He wanted to know who at IRS the DOJ folks could talk to about Sen. [Sheldon] Whitehouse idea at the hearing that DOJ could piece together false statement cases about applicants who ‘lied’ on their 1024s — saying they weren’t planning on doing political activity, and then turning around and making large visible political expenditures.
“DOJ is feeling like it needs to respond, but want to talk to the right folks at IRS to see whether there are impediments from our side and what, if any damage, this may do to IRS programs.”
The emails were first brought to light by a lawsuit a decade ago by Judicial Watch.
A DOJ spokesperson did not immediately respond to a call Thursday seeking comment on behalf of Pilger.
But in an interview with congressional investigators in 2014, Pilger revealed he actually began discussing strategies with Lerner for pursuing the conservative nonprofits for prosecution back in the fall of 2010, a few months after the Supreme Court opened up political spending through its landmark Citizens United ruling, the final report stated.
Pilger sent an email in October 2010 asking for a “good IRS contact re criminal tax enforcement against tax-exempt organizations,” the emails show.
Nancy Marks, an IRS criminal investigator, wrote an email back identifying a contact Pilger’s team could use, but she also cautioned that there was no evidence of criminality known to the agency.” (Read more: JusttheNews, 7/31/2022) (Archive)