Lois Lerner 'crazies' e-mails: What do they really tell us?

New e-mails in which former IRS official Lois Lerner dismisses some conservatives as 'crazies' don't paint her in the most charitable light. But they don't offer insight into how she did her job, which is the material point.

Susan Walsh/AP
Lois Lerner e-mails obtained from the House Ways and Means Committee are displayed in Washington Wednesday. A former IRS official at the heart of the agency's tea party controversy, she called Republicans 'crazies' and more.

Republicans have revealed tantalizing new fodder in the controversy over IRS targeting of conservative groups: A key official at the tax agency used the word “crazies” and other derogatory terms to describe some conservatives in a 2012 e-mail exchange.

Let’s just say that Lois Lerner, the Internal Revenue Service official in question, doesn’t come off as very charitable toward those of a different political persuasion from her own.

Rep. Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, forwarded the e-mails to the Justice Department Wednesday as “additional evidence” of possible criminal wrongdoing by Ms. Lerner.

But some context is important here.

Yes, the e-mails add momentum to the side that is arguing for fuller and deeper investigation of the IRS controversy.

She wrote the notes at a time when the division she headed was allegedly putting up roadblocks to conservative organizations applying for tax-exempt status as “social welfare” groups. IRS rules allow such groups to engage in a degree of political activity.

But ultimately, the question at issue will be what Lerner and others at the IRS did on the job, not what their personal political views were.

Although Mr. Camp calls the emails evidence of an “animus” that drove Lerner’s actions at the IRS, it’s not clear from the e-mails alone how her private views did or didn’t affect her actions while on duty.

In the 2012 e-mails, which date from a couple of days after the US presidential election, Lerner appears to be traveling on vacation in England and conversing in the e-mail exchange with a friend.

The Blackberry e-mails, released by Camp, show only Lerner being asked “what’s in store for the weekend,” and giving an answer about her sight-seeing plans. She then relates how she overheard British women talking about America and saying “we’ve bankrupted ourselves.”

That leads to some discussion of talk radio in the US, which, it should be noted, isn’t exactly known for inspiring calmness, sensitivity, and nuance on either the pro or con side among listeners.

The other person in the e-mail exchange lashes out at conservative show hosts as part of the “whacko wing” of the Republican Party, who say it’s “time to hunker down, buy ammo and food, and prepare for the end.”

Lerner responds: “So we don't need to worry about alien teRrorists. It's our own crazies that will take us down.”

Lerner’s comments (with other derogatory language included) won’t enshrine her as a model of bipartisan comity. And a line about the “hoi poloi” having “ruined” one English village has by itself prompted plenty of guffaws. (Hoi polloi means common people.)

It’s not clear exactly what Lerner meant by the remark. But one online commenter on Fox News took it as a sign of how many Democrats, despite casting themselves as the on the side of ordinary folk, “have so little regard for those they purport to be, ‘protecting.’ ”

The e-mails also show lerner appearing to sympathize with conservative on one point: that the size of the welfare state is a valid political issue to discuss. In regard to the British women saying America is “doing down the tubes,” Lerner says. “They don't seem to see that they can't afford to keep up their welfare state either. Strange.”

Camp, in his new letter (addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department of Justice), laments that “There is no indication that DOJ is taking this matter seriously.... I hope DOJ will aggressively pursue this case and finally appoint a special counsel, so the full truth can be revealed and justice is served.”

The Ways and Means Committee has already referred evidence to the Justice Department that Lerner improperly used her position to target conservative groups, Camp said.

He also urged the Justice Department to investigate “whether there was unauthorized disclosure of taxpayer information in violation of the law,” citing new evidence of Lerner having worked with IRS information on her home computer in 2012.

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