Emails reveal IRS official Lois Lerner sought audit of GOP senator Charles Grassley
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Lois Lerner, former director of the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division at the Internal Revenue Service(IRS), listens during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill March 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chairman Darrell Issa(R-CA) questioned witness Lerner, to see if the Internal Revenue Service has been targeting US citizens based on their political beliefs. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the media follow Lois Lerner, the director of the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) exempt organizations office, left, after a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Lerner, the mid-level IRS official at the center of a controversy over treatment of small-government groups, invoked her right not to testify after reading a statement denying that she had committed any crimes. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10:Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) looks on during a House Oversight Committee meeting to determine whether or not to hold IRS Official Lois Lerner in contempt, on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. After debate, the committee voted 21-12 to hold her in contempt and refer the matter to the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Lois Lerner, former director of the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division at the Internal Revenue Service(IRS), is re-sworn-in for a continuation of a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill March 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing to see if the Internal Revenue Service has been targeting US citizens based on their political beliefs. Lerner once again invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Lois Lerner, the director of the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) exempt organizations office, listens during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Lerner, the mid-level IRS official at the center of a controversy over treatment of small-government groups, invoked her right not to testify after reading a statement denying that she had committed any crimes. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) headquarters stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. The widening inquiries into the IRS are focusing less on why employees singled out small-government groups for scrutiny and more on agency executives who didn't inform Congress earlier. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
This Thursday, Jan. 9, 2013 photo, shows a 2013 1040-ES IRS Estimated Tax form at H & R Block tax preparation office in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles. âThe United States income tax is a pay-as-you-go tax, which means that tax must be paid as you earn or receive your income during the year,â the IRS says. âYou can either do this through withholding or by making estimated tax payments.â (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 26, 2014, prior to testifying before the House Oversight Committee hearing probing whether tea party groups were improperly targeted for increased scrutiny by the governmentâs tax agency. Earlier this month, IRS official Lois Lerner was called to testify about the controversy but refused to answer questions by committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and invoked her Fifth Amendment rights at least nine times. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
In this Thursday, Jan. 9, 2013 photo, H & R Block public accountant, John Lee, explains how to file the 2013 1040-ES IRS Estimated Tax forms at his H & R Block tax preparation office in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles. âThe United States income tax is a pay-as-you-go tax, which means that tax must be paid as you earn or receive your income during the year,â the IRS says. âYou can either do this through withholding or by making estimated tax payments.â (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Tea party activists attend a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 19, 2013. The IRS has been under fire from Democrats and Republicans in Congress since May, when one of its officials publicly apologized for targeting conservative groups' applications for tax-exempt status for close examination. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congressional investigators say they uncovered emails Wednesday showing that a former Internal Revenue Service official at the heart of the tea party investigation sought an audit involving a Republican senator in 2012.
The emails show former IRS official Lois Lerner mistakenly received an invitation to an event that was meant to go to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
The event organizer apparently offered to pay for Grassley's wife to attend the event. In an email to another IRS official, Lerner suggests referring the matter for an audit, saying it might be inappropriate for the group to pay for his wife.
"Perhaps we should refer to exam?" Lerner wrote.
It was unclear from the emails whether Lerner was suggesting that Grassley or the group be audited - or both.
The other IRS official, Matthew Giuliano, waved her off, saying an audit would be premature because Grassley hadn't even accepted the invitation.
"It would be Grassley who would need to report the income," Giuliano said.
The name of the event organizer was blacked out on copies of the emails released by the House Ways and Means Committee because they were considered confidential taxpayer information. Grassley and his wife signed waivers allowing their names to be released.
In a statement, Grassley's office said the senator did not attend the event, and did not receive any invitation intended for Lerner.
"This kind of thing fuels the deep concerns many people have about political targeting by the IRS and by officials at the highest levels," Grassley said. "It's very troubling that a simple clerical mix-up could get a taxpayer immediately referred for an IRS exam without any due diligence from agency officials."
The IRS says it has lost an untold numbers of Lerner's emails because her computer crashed in 2011, sparking outrage among Republican lawmakers who have accused the tax agency of a cover-up. The emails released Wednesday were among the thousands that have been turned over to congressional investigators.
"We have seen a lot of unbelievable things in this investigation, but the fact that Lois Lerner attempted to initiate an apparently baseless IRS examination against a sitting Republican United States senator is shocking," Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said. "At every turn, Lerner was using the IRS as a tool for political purposes in defiance of taxpayer rights."
Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. The IRS has acknowledged that agents improperly scrutinized applications by tea party and other conservative groups before the 2010 and 2012 elections. Documents show that some liberal groups were singled out, too.
Grassley had been an outspoken critic of the way the IRS policed tax-exempt groups even before the tea party controversy erupted last year.
In one email, Lerner indicates that she won't attend the event.
"Don't think I want to be on the stage with Grassley on this issue," she wrote.
Ways and Means is one of three congressional committees investigating the way the IRS processed applications for tax-exempt status. The Justice Department is also investigating.
Also Wednesday, a group of Republican senators - including Grassley - said they want to expand a Senate investigation to look more closely at how the agency lost the emails.
Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee said they want know why the Treasury Department and the White House were told about the lost emails more than a month before Congress was told. They have asked committee chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to schedule a hearing with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
Wyden's office was noncommittal Wednesday, saying he hadn't seen the request.
The Republicans, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, are also asking the Treasury and Justice departments, and the Federal Election Commission, to turn over any emails they might have from Lerner.
"The IRS' failure to inform the committee months or even weeks ago about the missing emails raises serious questions about its commitment to cooperate with this investigation," the letter said.
In testimony before a House panel this week, Koskinen said the IRS waited to tell Congress until officials knew the full extent of the email loss.
Koskinen said the Treasury Department has agreed to turn over emails it has from Lerner. The White House said last week it has found no emails between anyone in the executive office of the president and Lerner.
At the time of Lerner's computer crash in June 2011 the IRS had a policy of backing up emails on computer tapes, but the tapes were recycled every six months, Koskinen said. He said Lerner's hard drive was recycled and presumably destroyed.
The IRS was able to generate 24,000 Lerner emails from the 2009 to 2011 period because she had copied in other IRS employees. Overall, the IRS said it was producing a total of 67,000 emails to and from Lerner, covering the period from 2009 to 2013.