The Corner

Law & the Courts

Judge Threatens to Hold IRS Commissioner and DOJ Lawyers in Contempt for Stonewalling on Lois Lerner Emails

A federal judge has threatened to hold Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen and several Justice Department attorneys in contempt for defying his order that the government produce newly recovered Lois Lerner emails. The threat occurred today at a fiery court hearing in connection with Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the IRS.

Lerner, of course, is the former director of the IRS headquarters unit responsible for executing the scheme to subject conservative groups to vexatious investigations and other harassment when they sought tax-exempt status. The IRS and other executive branch officials had falsely claimed that her emails from the relevant time frame were “inadvertently” destroyed. The government now concedes that close to 1,800 Lerner emails have been preserved, but it continues to withhold them despite FOIA demands and court orders.

On July 1, 2015, federal district judge Emmet Sullivan directed the IRS to begin producing the emails on a rolling, weekly basis, as well as weekly status reports explaining whether new relevant documents had been discovered and, if so, when they would be disclosed.

I would note that even this order was overly indulgent – the emails are now years old; 1,800 is a comparatively small number of documents as civil litigation goes; and there is no apparent reason why the executive branch should not be directed to produce everything forthwith – especially given its appalling record of stonewalling. Nevertheless, the Obama Justice Department and IRS contemptuously defied the court order, offering a rationale the judge reportedly found “indefensible, ridiculous, and absurd.”

Judicial Watch has issued a press release relating developments at today’s hearing. It includes this from Judge Sullivan’s latest order:

At the July 29, 2015 status hearing, the Government agreed that the Court’s July 1, 2015 oral order from the bench was clear and enforceable. Nonetheless, the Government reasoned it inappropriate to file a motion for reconsideration until a written order was issued. As expressed at the hearing, the Government’s reasoning is nonsensical. Officers of the Court who fail to comply with Court orders will be held in contempt. Also, in the event of non-compliance with future Court orders, the Commissioner of the IRS and others shall be directed to show cause as to why they should not be held in contempt of Court. The Court’s July 1, 2015 ruling from the bench stands: (1) the Government shall produce relevant documents every Monday; (2) the Government’s document production shall be accompanied by a status report that indicates (a) whether TIGTA has turned over any new documents to the IRS, (b) if so, the number of documents, and (c) a timeframe for the IRS’s production of those documents.

The full Judicial Watch press release is here.

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