One of the groups that sued the Internal Revenue Service over its targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups believes there has been a breakthrough that will help them draw a more complete picture of what went on behind the scenes at the agency, four years after it took its case to court.
In a lawsuit involving True the Vote, Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the IRS last week to release the names of employees involved in targeting conservative and Tea Party groups. Walton also told the IRS to explain why groups were targeted and search for additional records in agency databases from May 2009 to March 2015.
The IRS has until Oct. 16 to complete its records search.
Walton's order was a turning point for True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht in her legal battle with the IRS that began in 2013.
"We've come so far, and I believe that we are going to bring this thing to a head," Engelbrecht told the Washington Examiner. "I believe we will see the IRS correct its ways, and as to accountability, I'd love to see some perp walks."
But she and her lawyer, Jim Bopp, are preparing for the IRS to drag out production of the names and documents.
"The backdrop is the relentless stonewalling that the IRS has done in terms of being able to get access to the documents that would show the wrongful acts of the IRS as far as discriminating against conservative groups in the administration of the tax code," Bopp told the Washington Examiner.
For Bopp and Engelbrecht, the list of names of IRS employees involved, as well as the documents the IRS was ordered to turn over, could help True the Vote and others who were targeted get a "full and complete picture" of what went on before the scandal came to light and in the years since, as Bopp said he will be able to depose the employees involved once he learns their identities.
"You put somebody under oath and you ask them questions, then you can get the whole picture," he said. "The full and complete picture is necessary for the courts to fashion relief that will prevent this from happening again. That's why we're pushing it. We need to know what happened in order for the court to order the IRS not to do that again. We only have a partial picture of the acts that were taken that need to be enjoined in the future."
Bopp and True the Vote previously requested documents from the IRS pertaining to the organization, but the agency has yet to turn over any documents, Bopp said.
But the tax agency finally admitted to having records on True the Vote.
In a conference call with Bopp several weeks ago, he said Justice Department lawyers representing the IRS said it performed a search of a database of documents compiled in response to congressional inquiries and found nearly 2,000 documents related to True the Vote.
"I was shocked there were 2,000 documents, and then I was doubly shocked when they hadn't produce them," he said. "You could've picked me up off the floor. They had them. They didn't produce them, and they weren't even going to tell us."
A Justice Department spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner it will not comment on off-the-record discussions with opposing counsel.
"With respect to Judge Walton's ruling, which was entered in the Linchpins of Liberty case, we are reviewing the order and will respond accordingly," said Nicole Navas Oxman, the spokeswoman.
Likely included in the documents, Bopp said, are emails and records that tell the "kind of backstory of what they were really doing and why they were doing it."
"They gave us the case file to True the Vote, but that's sanitized. Those are the documents the IRS wants to be revealed," he said. "It's not the backstory. That's like providing us with a newspaper. We want the discussions between reporters about the story."
The targeting scandal burst into the public eye in 2013 after former IRS official Lois Lerner admitted the agency was providing extra scrutiny to conservative and Tea Party groups applying for nonprofit status, delaying their applications for months and even years.
Conservative lawmakers have since been calling for those involved at the IRS to be held accountable.
At the end of last year, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, attempted to force a vote on a resolution to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. The House, though, voted to refer the resolution to the Judiciary Committee.
In a statement to the Washington Examiner, Jordan said he's pleased to see the courts recognize the IRS's wrongdoings, but said the order stops short of delivering justice to those targeted.
"We already know the names of the IRS employees who targeted conservatives: It's people like Lois Lerner, and they've gone unpunished for their actions," Jordan said. "I'm glad that the judicial system continues to recognize that the IRS acted wrongly, but Commissioner John Koskinen and the IRS have continued to stonewall and even to target people without consequences. We don't need names – we need justice."
Engelbrecht, too, said just learning the names of those involved isn't enough for her. Instead, she wants the IRS to enact a policy prohibiting viewpoint discrimination.
"That's our whole goal — it's to make sure this viewpoint discrimination can never occur again. It is procedurally prohibited," Engelbrecht said. "That they admit what they did was unconstitutional and won't happen to an organization, an individual, doesn't matter your political party preference. The IRS has been weaponized and needs to be put back in the box."