After minuscule IRS settlement to tea party groups, Lerner’s testimony remains under seal

by WorldTribune Staff, September 4, 2018

A U.S. district judge last month awarded what amounts to $17,000 each to more than 100 tea party groups illegally targeted by the IRS for political purposes before the 2012 elections.

Judge Michael R. Barrett, who called the $3.5 million settlement “fair, reasonable and adequate,” also allowed the testimony of former IRS senior executive Lois Lerner in the class action lawsuit to remain sealed.

Lois Lerner. / AP

Half of the settlement money will go to the lawyers who argued the case and the other half to the tea party groups, Stephen Dinan reported for The Washington Times.

The settlement “closely approximates the fines the IRS would have had to pay in damages for each intrusive scrutiny of tea party groups, had the agency been found in violation of the law,” Dinan noted.

Lerner, who had invoked her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent before Congress, was deposed in the class action lawsuit brought by the tea party groups along with deputy Holly Paz.

Judge Barrett said their testimony will remain sealed for now, but he is still weighing a final decision.

The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper, the state of Ohio and government watchdog group Judicial Watch have all asked for the testimony to be unsealed.

Lerner and Paz say they fear death threats if their testimony is revealed to the public.

“Returning Mss. Lerner and Paz to the media spotlight places them at risk, regardless of what they actually said in those depositions. The only way to keep this litigation from putting them in the media spotlight is to completely seal the depositions and summary judgment materials quoting them,” lawyers for Lerner and Paz said in court filings.

Lerner’s lawyers told Barrett that she received another threat last month, but the nature of the threat is also still under seal, Dinan’s report said.

The Obama Justice Department in 2015 declined to bring charges against Lerner.

“We found no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt, or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution,” then-Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said in a letter to Congress.

Mark Meckler, who as president of Citizens for Self Governance funded the class action challenge, told The Washington Times, “I’m not frankly aware of any other class action lawsuit against the IRS for anything where the IRS paid money.”

Even with the settlement, however, Meckler told The Times that he hasn’t seen any policy changes at the IRS that would prevent a repeat of what happened to the tea party groups.

“I’m a hundred percent certain it could happen again,” Meckler said.

The IRS cited former Commissioner John Koskinen, who assured Congress that targeting is a thing of the past.

The IRS offered a “sincere apology” to tea party groups in a case filed in federal court in the District of Columbia and the government agreed to a declaratory judgment that “it is wrong” to scrutinize a tax return because of a taxpayer’s name or political philosophy.

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