Lois Lerner, the embattled IRS official who invoked the Fifth Amendment at Wednesday’s hearing covering the agency’s treatment of conservative groups, seems to have a record of targeting Christians, The Blaze reported Thursday, citing the Weekly Standard.
During the 1990s, Lerner was head of the Enforcement Office at the Federal Election Commission. During that time, her agency was investigating the Christian Coalition to determine if it was “coordinating issue advocacy expenditures with a number of candidates for office,” Mark Hemingway reported at the Weekly Standard.
Hemingway said that “under Lerner’s watch, inappropriate religious inquiries were a hallmark of the FEC’s interrogation of the Christian Coalition.”
“We felt we were being singled out, because when you handle a case with 81 depositions you have a pretty good argument you’re getting special treatment. Eighty-one depositions! Eighty-one! From Ralph Reed’s former part-time secretary to George H.W. Bush. It was mind blowing,” said James Bopp Jr., lead counsel for the Christian Coalition at the time.
In all, Lerner’s office deposed 48 people, including Lt. Col. Oliver North.
In 2003, Bopp told the United States Committee on House Administration that the agency pried into Coalition staff prayer meetings.
“Deponents were also asked to explain what the positions of ‘intercessory prayer’ and ‘prayer warrior’ entailed, what churches speciﬁc people belonged, and the church and its location at which a deponent met Dr. [Ralph] Reed,” he testified.
“One of the most shocking and startling examples of this irrelevant and intrusive questioning by FEC attorneys into private political associations of citizens occurred during the administrative depositions of three pastors from South Carolina. Each pastor, only one of whom had only the slightest connection with the Coalition, was asked not only about their federal, state and local political activities, including party afﬁliations, but about political activities that, as one FEC attorney described as ‘personal,’ and outside of the jurisdiction of the FECA [Federal Election Campaign Act]. They were also continually asked about the associations and activities of the members of their congregations, and even other pastors,” he added.
His testimony also included a transcript of questioning between the agency and Lt. Col. Oliver North, presented below (Q stands for the FEC rep, A denotes North’s response, and O is the objection raised by Christian Coalition attorneys).
Q: (reading from a letter from Oliver North to Pat Robertson) “‘Betsy and I thank you for your kind regards and prayers.’ The next paragraph is, ‘Please give our love to Dede and I hope to see you in the near future.’ Who is Dede?”
A: “That is Mrs. Robertson.”
Q: “What did you mean in paragraph 2, about thanking -you and your wife thanking Pat Robertson for kind regards?”
A: “Last time I checked in America, prayers were still legal. I am sure that Pat had said he was praying for my family and me in some correspondence or phone call.”
Q: “Would that be something that Pat Robertson was doing for you?”
A: “I hope a lot of people were praying for me, Holly.”
Q: “But you knew that Pat Robertson was?”
A: “Well, apparently at that time I was reﬂecting something that Pat had either, as I said, had told me or conveyed to me in some fashion, and it is my habit to thank people for things like that.”
Q: “During the time that you knew Pat Robertson, was it your impression that he had – he was praying for you?”
O: “I object. There is no allegation that praying creates a violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act and there is no such allegation in the complaint. This is completely irrelevant and intrusive on the religious beliefs of this witness.”
O: “It is a very strange line of questioning. You have got to be kidding, really. What are you thinking of, to ask questions like that? I mean, really. I have been to some strange depositions, but I don’t think I have ever had anybody inquire into somebody’s prayers. I think that is really just outrageous. And if you want to ask some questions regarding political activities, please do and then we can get over this very quickly. But if you want to ask about somebody’s religious activities, that is outrageous.”
Q: “I am allowed to make-’’
O: “We are allowed not to answer and if you think the Commission is going to permit you to go forward with a question about somebody’s prayers, I just don’t believe that. I just don’t for a moment believe that. I ﬁnd that the most outrageous line of questioning. I am going to instruct my witness not to answer.”
Q: “On what grounds?”
O: “We are not going to let you inquire about people’s religious beliefs or activities, period. If you want to ask about someone’s prayers-Jeez, I don’t know what we are thinking of. But the answer is, no, people are not going to respond to questions about people’s prayers, no.”
Q: “Will you take that, at the first break, take it up- we will do whatever we have to do.”
O: “You do whatever you think you have to do to get them to answer questions about what people are praying about.”
Q: “I did not ask Mr. North what people were praying about I am allowed to inquire about the relationship between-’’
O: “Absolutely, but you have asked the question repeatedly. If you move on to a question other than about prayer, be my guest.”
Q: “I have been asking you a series of questions about your relationship with Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition. . . . It is relevant to this inquiry what relationship you had with Pat Robertson and I have asked you whether Pat Robertson had indicated to you that he was praying for you.”
O: “If that is a question, I will further object. It is an intrusion upon the religious beliefs and activities of Dr. Robertson. And how that could – how the Federal Government can be asking about an individual’s personal religious practices in the context of an alleged investigation under the Federal Election Campaign Act, I am just at a complete loss to see the
relevance or potential relevance, and I consider that to be also intrusive.”
Q: “Was Pat Robertson praying for you in 1991?”
O: “Same objection.”
A: “I hope so. I hope he still is.”
Bopp’s entire testimony can be seen here.
The Christian Coalition successfully fought off allegations made by Lerner’s investigators.
Lerner was promoted to acting General Counsel at the FEC in 2001 before moving on to the IRS, Hemingway said.
Bopp told the Weekly Standard he was concerned what would happen with Lerner at the IRS, given the way she handled cases at the FEC.
“When she left the FEC, I thought, ‘Wow, this means the not for profit division is gearing up politically,'” he said. “It didn’t bode well, because of the way [the FEC] approached cases.”
Bopp’s concerns were apparently not without merit.
In recent testimony, outgoing IRS commissioner Steven Miller was asked about allegations that pro-life groups were asked to detail the prayers made by members of their organizations.
“Their question, specifically asked from the IRS to the Coalition for Life of Iowa: ‘Please detail the content of the members of your organization’s prayers,’” said Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill.
“Would that be an inappropriate question to a 501 c3 applicant?” he asked Miller. “The content of one’s prayers?”
“It pains me to say I can’t speak to that one either,” Miller told Schock, saying he would be “surprised” if that question was asked.
Other Christian groups, including the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Samaritan’s Purse and Dr. James Dobson’s “Family Talk,” reportedly came under scrutiny by the IRS.
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