A federal judge has threatened to hold the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service in contempt of court.
The threat came Wednesday from U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who has been presiding over a lawsuit by the conservative group Judicial Watch and its request that the Internal Revenue Service release the emails of Lois Lerner. She headed the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division.
Sullivan ordered a status hearing Wednesday after Judicial Watch complained his earlier orders were not being followed by the Justice Department, which is defending the IRS.
During the hearing, and in what’s known as Minute Order, Sullivan called the Justice Department’s reasoning “nonsensical.” He threatened to hold IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in contempt of court.
“Officers of the Court who fail to comply with Court orders will be held in contempt,” Sullivan threatened in the order. “Also, in the event of non-compliance with future Court orders, the Commissioner of the IRS and others shall be directed to show cause as to why they should not be held in contempt of Court.”
Judicial Watch alleges that the Justice Department has deliberately disobeyed Judge Sullivan’s order to produce the already recovered 1,800 emails on a weekly basis in order to meet obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.
Starting on July 1, a weekly release of emails belonging to Lois Lerner was to have started. The Justice Department never went back to the court when it could not meet the order, angering Sullivan. It began releasing some emails on July 15.
As expressed at the hearing, the Government's reasoning is nonsensical.
Federal Judge Emmett Sullivan in Minute Order.
“They’ve been playing games with this court as much as they have with the Congress,” Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, complained in an interview.
Lerner left the agency and was later held in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about her role in what she had acknowledged in 2013 publicly was inappropriate IRS targeting of tea party groups and other conservative organizations. Along the way in the blossoming scandal, the IRS said Lerner’s emails from the period in question were lost in a computer hard-drive crash, and later said some were recoverable.
Judicial Watch has sued the IRS for the recovered emails, and on Tuesday the group released 906 pages of documents containing what it said were recovered emails from the IRS handed over as part of its efforts to make them public. A day earlier, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to President Barack Obama calling for the firing of Commissioner Koskinen.
“Throughout his tenure, Commissioner Koskinen obstructed these Congressional invesitigations,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, wrote on Monday. “His obstruction takes the form of failure to comply with a congressional subpoena, failure to testify truthfully, and failure to preserve and produce up to 24,400 emails relevant to the investigation.”
The top Democrat on the committee accused Chaffetz and other GOP members of dishonesty themselves.
“The bottom-line is that the Inspector General found no evidence to back-up Republican claims of political motivation, White House involvement, or intentional destruction of evidence,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said in a statement on Monday. “Calls for Commissioner Koskinen to step down are nothing more than a manufactured Republican political crisis based on allegations that have already been debunked.”