Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the Internal Revenue Service to release the names of specific employees who allegedly targeted Tea Party groups and others during the Obama administration. Litigation has gone on since 2013 in what some conservatives said was “chilling” behavior by one of the federal government’s “most feared” agencies.
Judge Walton also demanded information from IRS as to which groups were targeted and the reasons for the targeting. The judge also wants to know how IRS intends to prevent a repeat of its actions.
True the Vote is the group that is involved in the particular case in which Judge Walton ruled. However, the IRS is facing litigation in multiple lawsuits involving complaints by Tea Party groups over delays in granting nonprofit status to them. According to Fox News, True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht expressed satisfaction that the government will be held to account. She said that her name had been “thrown around the IRS” and that she fears that the names of officials involved should be known. She said: “What they did was criminal.”
Judge Reggie Walton
When the scandal became known in 2013, the IRS unit involved was head by Lois Lerner. The agency admitted it was applying extra scrutiny to conservatives applying for nonprofit status. Lerner was apparently chagrined, according to statements recorded by the media at the time. “That was wrong,” Lerner said. “That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. ... The IRS would like to apologize for that.”
Judicial Watch -- a Washington-based watchdog group -- has been litigating the issue for years. Chris Farrell, who leads research at the organization, told Fox News that the IRS owes those affected “real accountability.” He said, “This was creepy, chilling stuff,” adding that Judge Walton has accomplished more with one ruling that all three branches of the federal government have managed to do in six years.
Last week, Judge Walton told attorneys for the IRS to “lay it on the line. Put it out there,” for the 38 groups that are part of the lawsuit in the District of Columbia. They are still looking for a full accounting of their treatment. The jurist presented the IRS with six questions that it must answer, which include the IRS employees’ names, why the groups were targeted, and how the IRS has tried to prevent a repeat. Even so, the IRS continues to fight some demands from Tea Party groups for full disclosure.
In May 2013, the IRS admitted it had been delaying the nonprofit status applications for some conservative groups to subject them to further scrutiny and delays because of their perceived political activity.
Lerner, an IRS senior executive at the time, said initially that the problem was attributable to rogue employees at an office in Ohio who had mishandled the applications. Subject investigations revealed, however, that high-level IRS officials in Washington were the culprits.
Some applications are still languishing. However, the IRS agreed last month to a process to decide on one of the key outstanding cases. But fears remain that IRS is still involved in delay tactics.
Attorney Carly Gammill of the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing some of the litigants, told the judge of their concern about a 2011 email sent by IRS employees that speculated that the majority of the applications would be approved but would later face review nevertheless. Holly Paz, an aide to Lerner, wrote in 2011: “We suspect we will have to approve the majority of the c4 applications,” and added, “We will also refer these organizations to the Review of operations for follow-up in a later year.”
Judge Walton told the IRS to go beyond searching a basic agency database for records. He ordered the IRS to seek “other relevant resources containing documents from the relevant time period.” He wants a search to the period 2009 to March 27, 2015. The IRS had argued for a shorter period. “Furthermore, to the extent that the plaintiffs have already received information produced by the government indicating that the plaintiffs were allegedly discriminated against, and that information provides a basis to believe that other such documents exist, the government must search all relevant sources to ensure that all documents responsive to the document request is identified and produced,” the judge wrote. Walton gave the IRS until October 16 to complete the search.
The IRS is also litigating a class-action lawsuit in Ohio by hundreds of groups that were on the agency’s target list. While both Lerner and Paz have been deposed in that case, they have asked for their testimony to be kept secret, claiming to have received death threats.
Judge Walton assumed his position in 2001 after being nominated President George W. Bush and confirmed by the United States Senate. Judge Walton was also appointed by President Bush in June of 2004 to serve as the Chair of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, a commission created by the United States Congress and tasked with the mission of identifying methods to curb the incidents of prison rape. Former Chief Justice Rehnquist also appointed Judge Walton to the federal judiciary's Criminal Law Committee and served from October 2005 until 2011. In May 2007, Chief Justice John Roberts appointed him as a Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is a 7-year appointment. In February 2013, the Chief Justice elevated Judge Walton to the position of Presiding Judge of that same court.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was established by Congress in 1978. According to its website: "The Court entertains applications made by the United States Government for approval of electronic surveillance, physical search, and certain other forms of investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes." The Court has become the focus of attention over the last year over allegations that the National Security Agency made improper requests for intercepting communications of Americans, who may have included members of the Trump political organization.