Issa Subpoenas DOJ After ‘Election Crimes’ Director Refuses to Answer Critical Questions 34 Times

By Michael W. Chapman | May 20, 2014 | 5:09pm EDT

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), right, and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). (AP)

( – House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) subpoenaed the Department of Justice today for documents after the DOJ’s Election Crimes Branch director, Richard Pilger, refused to answer critical questions 34 times, as advised by a DOJ lawyer, about the IRS-Tea Party scandal.

“The Department’s refusal to allow Mr. Pilger to testify about matters highly relevant to the Committee’s investigation unnecessarily delays and frustrates the Committee’s Constitutional oversight obligations,” said Chairman Issa in a letter sent with the subpoena.

“The Department’s obstruction in this regard, coupled with its failure to produce any relevant material to date, leads the Committee to conclude the Department is not seriously committed to cooperating with the Committee’s investigation on the Committee’s terms,” said Issa.

The subpoena follows on the heels of an Apr. 23 letter from 17 members of the committee to the DOJ for materials “concerning the Department’s involvement in efforts to scrutinize tax-exempt applicants after emails surfaced between Pilger and the Internal Revenue Service’s Lois G. Lerner where they discussed singling out and prosecuting tax-exempt applicants, at the urging of a Democraic senator,” reads a statement from the committee issued today.  (See Lerner-Pilger.pdf)

Lois Lerner, former director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In that May 8, 2013 e-mail from Lois Lerner, the director of Exempt Organizations, to IRS officials Nikole C. Flax,   Joseph H. Grant and Nancy J. Marks, she states: “I got a call today from Richard Pilger Director Elections Crimes Branch at DOJ. I know him from contacts from my days there. He wanted to know who at IRS the DOJ folks could talk to about Sen. [Sheldon] Whitehouse [D-R.I.] idea at the hearing that DOJ could piece together false statement cases about applicants who ‘lied’ on their 1024s – saying they weren’t planning on doing political activity, and then turning around and making large visible political expenditures.

“DOJ is feeling like it needs to respond, but want to talk to the right folks at IRS to see whether there are impediments from our side and what, if any damage this might do to IRS programs,” wrote Lerner in the e-mail.

In the statement issued today by the Oversight Committee, it says the Federal Election Committee, the IRS, and the DOJ sought ways to minimize the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, claiming that “a clear outline emerges of government agencies cracking down on constitutionally protected free speech.”

Attorney General Eric Holder. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The statement also quotes Lois Lerner from Oct. 19, 2010, saying of the Citizens United case: "And everyone is up in arms becuase they don't like it. The Federal Election Commission can't do anything about it. They want the IRS to fix the problem."  (See video.)

Staff for the Oversight Committee interviewed Richard Pilger on May 6, 2014.  During that interview, Pilger was instructed by a DOJ attorney not to answer questions in 34 instances. The DOJ sought to limit the scope of the question to Pilger’s communications with Lerner, reads the May 20 letter from Chairman Issa.

The letter say “the Department’s lawyer refused to allow Mr. Pilger to answer questions about conversations within the Department in wake of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Mr. Pilger’s interactions with the Federal Election Commission about Citizens United, or whether Mr. Pilger had communicated with any IRS official since Lois Lerner’s apology for the targeting on May 10, 2013."

“These matters are highly relevant to the Committee’s investigation of the IRS targeting,” says the letter,  “and the Department’s refusal to allow Mr. Pilger to provide this information unduly impedes the Committee’s oversight obligations.”

Because of that refusal and the DOJ’s “failure to produce any relevant material to date,” reads the letter, the committee issued its subpoena for the documents it had requested back on Apr. 23, 2014.

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