True the Vote Case May Be the Latest Reason to Replace Sessions
By Michael Dorstewitz
April 12, 2018
A five-year-old lawsuit filed against the IRS provides the latest example of the ill-effects of the “deep state,” operating independent of the change in administration, and adds fuel to those calling for the attorney general to either resign or do his job.
Earlier this month, True the Vote (TTV), a Houston, Texas-based vote-monitoring organization, made a shocking statement. True the Vote was one of dozens of conservative groups that filed lawsuits against the IRS, alleging discriminatory harassment and delayed processing of their tax exempt applications.
The lawsuit was settled via a court-sanctioned consent order, wherein it was stipulated that the IRS and its employees had breached TTV’s “constitutional rights, by ... screening its tax-exempt application, significantly delaying the processing of the application, and making harassing, probing and unconstitutional requests for information based on the name, associations and/or political viewpoints of the Plaintiff-organization and that the violations are ongoing.”
The Trump administration, acting through the Department of Justice, is fighting True the Vote’s subsequent application seeking attorney fees.
The Justice Department argued on behalf of the IRS that:
- TTV “was not the prevailing party in this action;”
- TTV “obtained no judgment on the merits” and “no judicial relief;” and,
- Most outrageously, “the United States was substantially justified in its position.”
As True the Vote framed the government’s position:
- All conservative groups lost;
- The IRS is legally free to resume its discriminatory practices targeting conservative groups; and,
- The IRS’s five-year legal battle against conservative groups was justified
The IRS admitted that it had targeted conservative groups for tax scrutiny in the 2012 election, and apologized for its actions.
Five years later the agency reiterated its apology, prompting a scathing statement by Trump’s attorney general.
"There is no excuse for this conduct,” Jeff Sessions said last October. “Hundreds of organizations were affected by these actions, and they deserve an apology from the IRS. We hope that today's settlement makes clear that this abuse of power will not be tolerated."
But the Justice Department now argues that the IRS’s “abuse of power” is nothing more than business as usual, and as such is permissible under law.
On Wednesday, TTV filed a response to the DOJ’s objection to the award of attorney fees, arguing that True the Vote achieved the relief they sought and was therefore the prevailing party to the lawsuit.
So far Sessions has been silent on the issue, despite his earlier assessment that the IRS’s actions were an inexcusable “abuse of power.”
The attorney general’s inaction doesn’t end with True the Vote, however.
Last week several Republican lawmakers observed that it might be time to replace Sessions as attorney general. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, followed that up the next day by pleading with him to “do your job.”
These remarks were prompted by the FBI’s slow-walking of documents subpoenaed by Congress, including those related to the agency’s handling of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.
The FBI’s Monday afternoon raid of the offices, residence, and hotel room of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, set more people to ask, “Where was Sessions?”
The raids were conducted pursuant to search warrants executed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York through “a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller," which sought “privileged [attorney-client] communications,” according to a statement released by Cohen’s attorney.
This was all accomplished by Sessions’ FBI and one of Sessions’ U.S. attorneys.
Shortly after his confirmation, he recused himself from any matters related to alleged Russian collusion, but neither the FBI’s foot-dragging nor the Cohen raid had anything remotely connected to Russia.
And the IRS’s audacious abuse of power directed at True the Vote certainly isn’t Kremlin-related either. TTV founder Catherine Engelbrecht put it this way:
“The Trump Administration is defending the IRS’s targeting of American citizens? How is that possible?” she said in a statement. “After all the Congressional hearings, all the courtroom drama, all the stump speeches decrying what happened and promising ‘Never Again!’; Mr. President, if you want to make America great again, then with all due respect, start by cleaning house in two agencies that have gone completely oﬀ the rails. End IRS abuse, hold rogue agents accountable, and stop the DOJ’s games. We are citizens, not subjects, and we will not be silenced.”