True the Vote, the Tea Party-style group targeted by Internal Revenue Service officials who are now at the very heart of the IRS scandal, is suing William Wilkins.
That would be the William Wilkins who is the IRS Chief Counsel.
True the Vote, “the nation’s leading voters’ rights and election integrity organization,” is announcing today that it is adding Wilkins -- one of only two Obama political appointees to the IRS -- to its federal lawsuit against the IRS. The group is also adding five other ranking IRS officials to the lawsuit as well.
“This lawsuit is the only way to get all of the answers involving this national scandal,” said True the Vote’s President Catherine Engelbrecht. Engelbrecht, who was the subject of a report here in May, was the target of federal investigations into both her political group and her manufacturing business after she filed for tax exempt status for her organizations. The group is represented by True the Vote counsel Cleta Mitchell.
The other five IRS officials being added to the lawsuit other than Chief Counsel Wilkins are IRS officials Holly Paz, Steve Grodnitzky, David Fish, Michael Seto, and Cindy Thomas. According to the suit, the first four officials “all were directors or in positions of management within the Washington, DC IRS offices during the targeting of conservative, non-profit applicants.” Additionally, the group says “the TIGTA (Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration) Report reveals each was involved in reviewing applications for tax exemption status and developing and reviewing the criteria used to target these applicants.” Thomas was “the Program Manager (highest position) at the IRS Determinations Unit in Cincinnati, OH. The TIGTA Report reveals that she worked directly with Washington, DC officials to implement and supervise the targeting scheme at the Cincinnati IRS office.”
The suit was initially filed in May of 2013.
This is a story about the Washington game. How it’s played. A story with names and dates -- and the IRS. Lois Lerner, the now infamous Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division is back. And a new name, that of IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins, one of two Obama political appointees, is entering the spotlight. There is another familiar name as well -- that of the-then Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
And there’s one more new name added: that of 2010 GOP Delaware U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, a Tea Party favorite.
The story begins on June 23rd of 2007.
Senator Barack Obama has caused a bit of a problem.
It seems that before he announced his candidacy for president, he had accepted an invitation to be a speaker at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ. The Synod, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the creation of the UCC, was to be held with 10,000 UCC pastors and lay leaders in attendance at the Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut, in June of 2007.
The United Church of Christ, the descendant church of the Pilgrims’ Congregational Church joined together with the Evangelical and Reform Church, had evolved over its fifty years of existence into an extremely liberal denomination at its national level. The church structure is run from the bottom up, which allows each individual church to run itself, producing a patchwork of very liberal local churches and very conservative churches or churches that simply ignore the national leadership’s liberal stances and sail along on their own, staying out of politics. (Note: for the record, I am a member of the UCC, a former president of my church council and former member of the UCC’s Penn Central Conference Board of Directors. My own church elects to steer clear of politics left or right.)
Senator Barack Obama was, in 2007, a member in good standing of the now-famous Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s decidedly leftist Trinity UCC in Chicago. The Senator would, in fact, be introduced by Wright himself via video tape.
(Note: The other day the Wall Street Journal editorial page, in an otherwise accurate editorial on the IRS, had this cloudy sentence: “As a partner at Washington D.C. law firm WilmerHale in 2008, Mr. Wilkins helped lead the defense of Chicago Reverend Jeremiah Wright's United Church of Christ when the IRS investigated then Senator Barack Obama's involvement with the church for any violations of its 501(c)(3) status.”
The error, which has caused some confusion out there, is the reference to “Jeremiah Wright’s United Church of Christ.” The WSJ sentence has left some with the impression that the incident at the General Synod with Senator Obama took place at Wright and Obama’s Trinity UCC. It did not. The incident in question involving the IRS and the UCC took place at the national denomination’s General Synod in Hartford, not at Wright’s Chicago UCC church.)
The original invitation to Obama came when Obama was still just a fresh-faced U.S. Senator. But by the time Obama arrived to give his speech in June of 2007, a speech that was a big deal in front of a national gathering of 10,000 elites from his own denomination, the young Senator was eight months into his declared candidacy for president. Which was not his status when he was originally invited.
Which put the United Church of Christ in a bind.
The UCC, like all churches, has an IRS 501(c)(3) tax exemption. The specific language in question forbids that the church “intervene in any political campaign.”
Thus, the UCC, to be on the safe side, could resolve the matter in one of three ways. Politely explain the situation to Senator Obama and disinvite him. Or, invite the Senator’s fellow seven competitors for the Democratic presidential nomination -- a list that included New York Senator Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards -- to also appear. Or, the Senator could agree to simply not mention his campaign during his speech. In any of those three cases the church would avoid problems with the IRS. In fact, the church’s lawyer had sent a letter to Obama’s “Director of Religious Affairs” making plain the problem, and before Obama took the podium a church official tried to make plain that what was happening wasn’t happening: this was not a political appearance and so it was asked that no campaign buttons be present. Alas, outside the Civic Arena, Obama campaign material was very much in evidence.
The church, then led by the ardent leftist Rev. John Thomas, refused to take either of the first two steps. Thus Obama appeared in Hartford and, predictably, deliberately -- his speech now on the familiar teleprompter -- and inevitably mentioned his presidential campaign.
The General Synod Delegates were barely out of the convention hall before there were rumbles of complaints to the IRS that the UCC had provided Obama a campaign platform, directly violating its tax exempt status. I wrote a piece at the time predicting that a complaint to the IRS was inevitable.
And sure enough, by August 2, someone out there in UCC-land, someone still unknown, had filed a complaint with the IRS. By September 7, I had the following story that was published here in this space:
Obama, UCC Draw IRS Complaint
It began by saying that a redacted complaint to the IRS had been obtained by a then-active website called UCC Truths, a website that focused on the internal dissent to the leftist church leadership.
The complaint, addressed to Lois Lerner, the Director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the Internal Revenue Service, formally asks the IRS to "investigate the United Church of Christ," identified in the complaint as "a 501 (3) (c) non-profit religious entity" for violating "federal tax law banning political campaign intervention.”
The article went on:
The complaint alleges the UCC “violated every single point outlined in the IRS guidelines,” in sponsoring the Illinois Senator’s appearance at the church’s bi-annual national gathering, which this year was held in the Hartford Civic Center in the Connecticut capital. It charges:
* "The United Church of Christ selectively provided the convention facilities for Sen. Obama to speak in support of his campaign.”
* “The United Church of Christ and Sen. Obama referenced his candidacy before and during the speech.”
* “Clear and deliberate campaign activity occurred in connection with the [sic] Sen. Obama’s attendance and speech.”
Reverend Thomas was furious. His response? The filing “reeks of Karl Rove.”
There was not the slightest proof then or now that Karl Rove had anything whatsoever to do with the filing. There was considerable turmoil within the church at Thomas’s leftist antics, and the belief in UCC circles at the time was that the anonymous filer was a furious UCC conservative.
So the Washington game began.
Let’s move over here to a legal publication called LegalBizNow.
The publication tells us that with the UCC reeling over the law suit, the UCC’s “Chicago-based national special counsel, Don Clark” had “conducted beauty contest interviews on a swing through DC.” Meaning, the lawyer for the liberal UCC leadership came to Washington seeking a liberal lawyer with contacts in the IRS to defend the church.
The winner? The law firm of WilmerHale. While the firm has tried to right its liberal image by hiring ex-Bush lawyers in the Obama era, in fact in 2007 the firm had a well-deserved reputation as a liberal law firm. As LegalBizNow reports a leader of the WilmerHale presentation to the UCC was former Clinton Solicitor General Seth Waxman. On Waxman’s team that convinced Clark the UCC would be successfully represented to the IRS and Lois Lerner?
That would be Bill Wilkins. William Wilkins.
The self-same William Wilkins who is now, yes indeed, the IRS Chief Counsel and a colleague of Lois Lerner’s. Wilkins being one of only two people at the IRS who is an Obama political appointee.
Bill Wilkins knows the Washington game. Here’s a 2009 profile from the Washington Post that made plain Wilkins’ inside connections when he was appointed by now President Obama to be Chief Counsel for the IRS and Assistant General Counsel at the Treasury Department.
After Harvard and Yale Law, a pit stop at a powerful Atlanta law firm, Wilkins was on to Capitol Hill where he was quickly ensconced on the U.S. Senate’s tax-writing Finance Committee working for two-back-to-back chairmen, Democrats Russell Long and Lloyd Bentsen, earning a reputation as a “savvy” Senate aide.
The Post also approvingly noted in its profile of Wilkins that there were “close ties between the White House and WilmerHale” and that “Wilkins' longtime employer has served as a recruiting ground of sorts for the Obama administration.”
The paper added:
According to the election records available on CQ's MoneyLine Web site, Wilkins has made at least $35,000 worth of political contributions over the years. He has donated to a number of prominent Democrats, including five donations totaling $4,250 to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
This is the self-same Bill Wilkins whose office was named just the other day by IRS lawyer and tax specialist Carter Hull as the place where all those Tea Party applications seemed to find themselves mysteriously mired in bureaucratic molasses. Noted the Wall Street Journal in an editorial titled "The IRS Goes to Washington":
Once he delivered them, however, the process stalled and the applications mouldered until August 2011, when Mr. Hull met with Mr. Wilkins's staff and Ms. Lerner's senior adviser to discuss the applications. Mr. Hull was told the applications had been on the shelf too long and needed updating. "I was taken aback," Mr. Hull said of the request, which added even more time to the already delayed applications. "I hadn't had the case for a while. I couldn't ask if I didn't have the case."
This routing process is significant in part because the chief counsel is one of only two political appointees at the IRS. Sending applications through that office ensured that a Democratic appointee and his staff could act as a filter for conservative groups' applications. According to Ron Shoemaker, who supervised Mr. Hull, the counsel's office was especially interested in evidence of groups' "possible political activity or political intervention right before the election period" in 2010.
Getting the advice of in-house lawyers isn't unusual, but extended delays of the applications was. One important question will be whether Mr. Wilkins was personally in the loop on the extended vetting. In May, the IRS issued a statement specifically denying that Mr. Wilkins was at an August 2011 meeting about tax-exempt groups that was noted in the original IRS report from Treasury Inspector General Russell George. The IRS said at the time that Mr. Wilkins "is not involved" in the tax-exempt arena and didn't know about the issue until sometime this year.
Noted the WSJ:
The IRS said at the time that Mr. Wilkins "is not involved" in the tax-exempt arena and didn't know about the issue until sometime this year.
Count us skeptical that, as head of the IRS's legal shop, Mr. Wilkins wasn't aware of the questions and evolving procedures for handling 501(c)(4) applications. When he was appointed to the IRS job in April 2009, the White House announcement emphasized his expertise in "counselling non-profit organizations."
Which, of course, is exactly what Wilkins was doing when he went to work dealing with the UCC problem that was in the hands of his future IRS colleague -- Lois Lerner.
Let’s do the timeline here. • June 23, 2007 -- Senator Obama speaks to the UCC General Synod.
• August 2, 2007 -- A complaint is filed with Lois Lerner of the IRS that the church furthered the Senator’s political campaign in violation of the church’s IRS status.
• February 20, 2008 -- The IRS notifies the UCC that it has officially opened an inquiry:
Because a reasonable belief exists that the United Church of Christ has engaged in political activities that would jeopardize its tax-exempt status as a church… this letter is notice of the beginning of a church tax inquiry.… Our concerns are based on articles posted on several websites including the church’s which state that United States Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama addressed nearly 10,000 church members gathered at the United Church of Christ’s biennial General Synod at the Hartford Civic Center on June 23, 2007. In addition, 40 Obama volunteers staffed campaign tables outside the center to promote his campaign.
• March, 2008 -- Reports LegalBizNow: “Within two weeks of their (Bill Wilkins and WilmerHale colleague Brian Menkes') March submission, Brian received his first tip from IRS contacts that the agency would be ruling favorably.”
• May 13, 2008 -- Wilkins receives a letter from the IRS officially informing him the UCC is off the hook. Wilkins was so pleased he posed for a photo with the letter. At his later appointment as the IRS Chief Counsel the Washington Post would cheer at Wilkin’s ability, saying the “unusually quick resolution of the case was probably due, in part, to the skilled representation provided by Wilkins and others at WilmerHale.”
Elapsed time from the February 20, 2008 IRS letter telling the liberal UCC it was opening an investigation to the May 13, 2008 IRS letter to Wilkins saying the church would not lose its tax exempt status?
A mere 73 days.
A considerable contrast with the treatment of all those Tea Party applications that wound up, according to Carter Hull, being slow-walked if not left to die in the offices of Lois Lerner and Bill Wilkins.
If the conservative Tea Party groups were treated with the same speed and fairness as the case of the United Church of Christ and Barack Obama, Wilkins would not be waking up this morning to find his name on a federal lawsuit.
And as if things weren’t bad enough, now comes word of possible IRS shenanigans with -- yes -- Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell.
Along with all manner of stories about the IRS that were ignored when they first surfaced over the last few years, attention now returns to Ms. O’Donnell, the Tea Party candidate who upset the GOP Establishment candidate in a hard-fought Delaware Senate primary in 2010.
In 2008, O’Donnell was the GOP Senate nominee to run against then-Senator Joe Biden. Biden, of course, was also running for vice president on the Obama ticket. Out of the blue, she was notified that she was the subject of an IRS audit. The audit dragged on until February of 2010.
As O’Donnell approached the announcement of her candidacy, mysterious rumors surfaced in Delaware GOP circles that if O’Donnell went ahead with her announcement the GOP Establishment was going to “mess” with her (another word beginning with “f” was actually used.) They would mess with her credit, it was threatened, O’Donnell later related in her book Troublemaker: Let’s Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again.
Now, with the audit from 2008 still hanging out there, there was more:
Immediately following my official (announcement) press conference, I received a letter from the IRS saying I had a tax lien on my home -- the very same home I had sold two years ago. A reporter called, saying she had received a copy of that same letter, on the same day I received it…
The IRS, contacted by O’Donnell, assured that all this was just a “computer error.”
Now comes the startling news from the U.S. Treasury Department (via the Washington Times) whose agent, Dennis Martel, left the following message on O’Donnell’s phone:
"Ms. O'Donnell, this is Dennis Martel, special agent with the U.S. Department of Treasury in Baltimore, Md.... We received information that your personal federal tax info may have been compromised and may have been misused by an individual…"
The Times also reveals that Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General very much in the news these days for his investigations into the IRS, is looking into the O’Donnell case.
Reports the Times:
Mr. George’s office also plans to interview Ms. O'Donnell about an incident in 2010 when Delaware’s tax collection office accessed the federal tax records of an unidentified taxpayer, thought to be Ms. O’Donnell, a Grassley staffer said.
A spokesman for the inspector general’s office said in an e-mail Monday that he has no information he can share.
Patrick Carter, director of the state’s division of revenue, would not identify Ms. O'Donnell as the taxpayer but said he approved the inquiry “for routine purposes.”
An interesting development here is the news of Patrick Carter’s involvement. Sources close to O’Donnell have noted that a “Patrick Carter” from Delaware with an address appearing to be that of the state’s division of revenue director is listed as having contributed Delaware U.S. Senator Tom Carper, as well as another Democratic candidate in the state.
If true, this means that an active Delaware Democrat used his official position inside the Delaware Revenue Department to inquire into O’Donnell’s IRS tax situation -- information that mysteriously materialized in public when O’Donnell ran for the U.S. Senate seat in 2010.
Iowa U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is also investigating.
So what do we have here in all of this?
With the “savvy” Bill Wilkins and the UCC and his friend and colleague Lois Lerner? With all those close ties to the Obama White House. Where, yes, Wilkins has visited numerous times, including April 23, 2012, according to White House visitor logs. That would be two days, reports the Daily Caller’s Patrick Howley, before
…Wilkins’ office sent the exempt organizations determinations unit “additional comments on the draft guidance” for approving or denying tea party tax-exempt applications, according to the IRS inspector general’s report.
And then the O’Donnell/IRS situation as well?
What we have here is a portrait of liberal insiders -- at the UCC initially -- who got caught up in an IRS problem courtesy of Senator Obama. In trouble, they turned to savvy Bill Wilkins of the liberal WilmerHale Washington law firm. Hale jumped into the fray, using his knowledge and influence with the IRS to get Lois Lerner’s office to let the UCC -- and by extension Senator Obama -- off the hook. It took a mere 73 days from announcement by the IRS of an investigation to a letter to Wilkins clearing the UCC.
Months after Barack Obama becomes president, the savvy Bill Wilkins is working at the IRS alongside Lois Lerner. Eventually the Tea Party takes off. And as Carter Hull illustrates, Tea Party applications are sent in to the offices of Lerner and the savvy Mr. Wilkins -- and somehow never emerge from the IRS. Which is why Mr. Wilkins is now being sued.
And Christine O’Donnell? In some mysterious fashion, don’t you know, her private business with the IRS falls into the hands of political opponents.
Political opponents of the same party who now want this entire ongoing investigation of the IRS shut down.
But also want the IRS to have access to everything in your medical records.
Well, imagine that.