Attorneys for former IRS official Lois Lerner are reportedly working hard to seal her deposition regarding the Tea Party targeting scandal on the grounds that public disclosure “could spur an enraged public to retaliate,” according to the Washington Times.
The newspaper reported last week that Lerner and former subordinate Holly Paz have already experienced harassment and threats. They gave taped depositions in a class-action lawsuit by Tea Party groups, the newspaper said. Now they want those depositions “sealed in perpetuity.”
But a story about this in the Western Journal contained a startling revelation about the argument of the attorneys representing Lerner and Paz.
Pointing to a remark allegedly made by a Tea Party activist who reportedly said IRS agents involved in the scandal had acted like “criminal thugs,” Lerner’s attorneys argued that “These words matter. They have created a fertile environment where threats and harassment against Mss. Lerner and Paz have flourished.”
Later the attorneys contended that Lerner’s remarks deserve protection because, “This documentation, as the court will see, makes very personal references and contains graphic, profane and disturbing language that would lead to unnecessary intrusion and embarrassment if made public.”
These words matter, too. And it could be argued that the public has a right to know what Lerner and Paz said that could be so volatile that they might fear retaliation.
This is a high profile case involving the use of a federal agency as a weapon against certain groups with which the previous administration was at odds.
Back in May, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “agency officials acknowledged in 2013 they had singled out conservative-leaning ‘public interest’ groups for extra attention while reviewing their applications for nonprofit, tax-exempt status.” By acknowledging that these are “public interest” groups, the IRS officials underscored the public’s right to full disclosure, especially about actions taken under an administration that had come into office promising to be transparent.
Earlier this year, the Enquirer noted, the government settled with Tea Party groups in Ohio and Washington, D.C. and apologized.
On May 22, 2013, Lerner declined to testify before the House Oversight Committee, exercising her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but only after making a statement to the committee in which she insisted, “I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations. And I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.” This was from an account in Wikipedia that noted she retired from the IRS the following September.
Congressman Trey Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor and member of the committee, contended that she waived her Fifth Amendment rights as soon as she offered testimony of her innocence. He noted that one cannot simply tell their side of a story and not face cross-examination.
“That’s not the way it works,” Gowdy observed.
Sealing depositions in a case involving IRA mistreatment of “public interest” groups is also “not the way it works.”
It could be argued that there is a compelling public interest in revealing what was said in those depositions.