“Low-Level Workers thrown under the Bus.” That was the subject line of the e-mail fired off around 2:00 p.m. on a Friday in May from the former head of the Internal Revenue Agency’s exempt organizations division in Cincinnati, Cindy Thomas, to Lois Lerner, who sat atop the division in Washington, D.C. Earlier that day, Lerner had blamed “low-level” workers in the agency’s Cincinnati office for improperly scrutinizing the applications of tea-party groups.
Lerner’s remarks did not sit well with Thomas, who penned the scathing e-mail just hours later. Thomas’s message, recently uncovered by the House Ways and Means Committee, notes that Cincinnati employees were told explicitly they would not be “thrown under the bus.”
“Cincinnati wasn’t ‘publicly thrown under the bus,’” Thomas bristled, but “hit by a convoy of mack trucks.” “As you can imagine, employees and managers in EO Determinations are furious,” she wrote. “Was it also communicated at that conference in Washington that the low-level workers in Cincinnati asked the Washington office for assistance and that the Washington office took no action to provide guidance to the low-level workers?”
A Ways and Means Committee spokesman said she didn’t know whether Lerner responded to the message. Holly Paz, the director of another Washington-based IRS office who has been on administrative leave since the scandal broke, was copied on Thomas’s e-mail.
Lerner’s original remarks, offered at a May 10 meeting of the American Bar Association, were an attempt to blunt the fallout from a forthcoming inspector general’s report that would conclude the agency had applied “inappropriate criteria” when screening applications from conservative groups. Lerner, who retired in September, said of the agency’s Cincinnati employees, “They didn’t have the appropriate level of sensitivity about how this might appear to others and it was just wrong.”
The e-mail sheds new light on the reaction among top IRS officials to the scandal that initially roiled the agency’s Cincinnati office but quickly spread to senior IRS officials in Washington, D.C., Lerner chief among them. Thomas’s sentiments were shared by some of her colleagues; when she passed it along to another manager in the Cincinnati office, Jon Waddell, he responded simply, “Well said.” In closed-door testimony before the House Oversight Committee, a Cincinnati agent who had been charged with screening tea-party applications called Lerner’s remarks “a nuclear strike on us.”
A 35-year IRS veteran, Thomas now serves as a senior technical adviser to the director of exempt organizations.