House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has subpoenaed the Justice Department after he did not get answers from a DOJ official during a recent closed-door interview that is part of the panel's investigation of IRS targeting of conservative groups.
Issa aides said Richard Pilger, director of DOJ’s Election Crimes Branch, “refused to answer critical questions,” during a May 6 interview.
Pilger was instructed to stay quiet by a DOJ attorney who was present. But he first gave a statement in which he said the DOJ's Public Integrity Section "never sought to target tax-exempt groups of any kind based upon the partisan content of any political speech, nor would I have ever tolerated such conduct."
The Washington Examiner has obtained a copy of his statement.
Pilger's involvement in the targeting matter just recently came to light after emails showed former IRS official Lois Lerner discussing with Pilger the idea of “singling out and prosecuting tax-exempt applicants.”
According to House Oversight, the emails show, “A clear outline ... of government agencies cracking down on constitutionally protected free speech.”
Issa said Pilger's refusal to provide closed-door testimony shows the DOJ is not serious about cooperating with the investigation.
Issa has subpoenaed Pilger for all communications about tax-exempt organizations and applicants and all emails to Lerner.
Issa also requests “all documents and communications referring or relating to the potential prosecution of tax-exempt applicants for statements made on Internal Revenue Service forms.”
Lerner was recently found in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before House Oversight about her role in the targeting.
Here is Pilger's statement:
My name again is Richard Pilger. I am a career prosecutor. I have served in the Public Integrity Section since July of 1992, when I was hired through the Attorney General's Honors Program following a Federal clerkship.
At this section, I have served as a trial attorney, senior trial attorney and in my current role as director of the Election Crimes Branch, which focuses on Federal election offenses.
I have spent virtually my entire career as a Federal prosecutor handling corruption cases — public corruption cases, I should say, including election fraud and campaign finance crime cases across the country. I have investigated and prosecuted cases concerning judges, legislators, governors, law enforcement agents and many others.
In addition to my casework, in my current role, I consult with and advise attorneys in the 94 United States Attorney's Offices. I also advise and work with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding campaign finance and other election offenses.
I have reviewed the committee's letter to the Attorney General dated April 23, 2014. I am here today in voluntary compliance with that letter's request for a transcribed interview with committee staff. And I understand there's a Congressman here today, too.
And I understand from the committee's letter that the subject of this interview is my contact with Ms. Lois Lerner, former director of the Internal Revenue Service, Exempt Organizations Division, and the committee members' question regarding whether the Department of Justice has improperly targeted particular tax-exempt groups for prosecution based upon their political views.
The short answer to that question is absolutely not. I have pursued my career and continued my career at the Public Integrity Section precisely because it was formed in the wake of Watergate to stand against the abuse of power.
Since I joined the Public Integrity Section in 1992, I have never encountered politically motivated decisions. To the contrary, it has been my consistent experience this section has acted, without exception, on a strictly nonpartisan basis in all of its decisions and actions. In my experience, politics plays no role in our work as prosecutors, period.
Turning to my contacts with Ms. Lerner, she is a professional acquaintance, and my best recollection is that I have communicated with her on four occasions.
First, I was briefly introduced to Ms. Lerner many years ago when I was a junior prosecutor and she was visiting a colleague in my building.
Second, in the fall of 2010, at the direction of the Chief of the Public Integrity Section, Jack Smith, I contacted the Internal Revenue Service for the purpose of discussing and helping our section better understand the evolving legal landscape surrounding potential violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act, which I'll also call FECA today. And that is following the Supreme Court's decision earlier that year in Citizens United v. FEC.
The Department — that's the Department of Justice — has jurisdiction over criminal violations of FECA both in the Public Integrity Section and in the U.S. Attorney's Offices.
The Citizens United decision expressly upheld the role of transparency mandated by Congress for our campaign finance system, and we wanted to ensure that our section would be vigilant against the potential circumvention of FECA and its reporting requirements by 501(c) organizations.
The IRS, when I contacted them, they directed me to Ms. Lerner, who met once at the Public Integrity Section offices for about 1 hour with some of her staff, my chief, Jack Smith, other personnel from my section, and the FBI.
Ms. Lerner shared general information about 501(c) organizations. She also expressed her view that it would be impossible to criminally prosecute the abuse of tax status by 501(c) organizations either as a tax offense or a FECA offense.
Third, in approximately January of 2011, I contacted Ms. Lerner. To the best of my recollection, this was for the purpose of identifying an appropriate person at the IRS who could provide certain tax information in response to a court order arising out of a specific investigation.
As I understand, the Department has made clear, in preparation for this interview and in accord with your direction about 6103
information and consistent with the longstanding Department policy, I am not in a position to discuss that investigation.
Fourth, in the spring of 2013, I had a contact with Ms. Lerner in connection with an April 9th, 2013, oversight hearing by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.
The topic of that hearing was campaign finance law enforcement. The witnesses included a two-person panel comprised of the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division and an IRS official.
In advance of the hearing, I recall that Ms. Lerner participated by telephone in a preparation meeting with the Department's Criminal and Tax Division personnel. I do not recall any personal interaction between myself and Ms. Lerner at that time.
Following the hearing and a subsequent letter from Subcommittee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse — that's Senator Sheldon Whitehouse — my section chief again directed me to contact Ms. Lerner to follow up on the chairman's question about whether the Department of Justice, the Treasury Department and the IRS had an effective mechanism for the IRS to refer to the Department of Justice evidence regarding potentially false statements that might have been submitted to the IRS.
I contacted Ms. Lerner to follow up. I do not recall substantive discussion. I do recall that she informed me that she was about to leave on vacation and that her staff would contact me to follow up.
Within days of that contact, however, allegations of misconduct involving the IRS became known to the Public Integrity Section and publicly, and I don't recall that any follow up occurred thereafter.
In conclusion, these are the professional contacts that Ms. Lerner and I have had that I recall. These professional contacts occurred in the context of a meeting to discuss and evaluate changes in the criminal enforcement landscape regarding Federal election law; a second time for the limited purpose of identifying a point of contact in connection with a particular law enforcement matter; and, lastly, for the purpose of responding to congressional inquiry simultaneously posed to both of our agencies — that's the Department and the Treasury — and the IRS.
To my knowledge, the IRS did not refer any matters to the Public Integrity Section as a result of contacts with Ms. Lerner. I do not believe that there was anything inappropriate about the direction given to me nor in my interactions with Ms. Lerner.
More specifically, I assure you that the Public Integrity Section never sought to target tax-exempt groups of any kind based upon the partisan content of any political speech, nor would I have ever tolerated such conduct.
This article was published at 3:38 p.m. and has been updated.