IRS-Gate: The Potential Criminal Implications

Written by John G. Malcolm and Hans von Spakovsky

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With the announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder of a criminal investigation of the IRS over the agency’s targeting of conservative Tea Party and other groups, a Holder Are You Telling More Lieskey question that has arisen is: What are the relevant federal criminal laws that might apply to the misconduct of IRS employees?

There are a number of provisions that are potentially applicable. It is important to keep in mind that the misconduct of IRS employees prevented numerous organizations from promptly obtaining the tax-exempt status to which they were entitled because they met the qualifications set out under the Internal Revenue Code—and some have still not received that clearance from the IRS.

The statutory provisions that may have been violated include:

There is no information in the report released by the Inspector General for Tax Administration at the Treasury Department that anyone in the White House had any knowledge of what the IRS was doing. But if such a connection were discovered during the Justice Department’s investigation, then 26 U.S.C. § 7217—which prohibits the President, the Vice President, or any of their employees (as well as cabinet secretaries) from “directly or indirectly” requesting that the IRS “conduct or terminate an audit or other investigation of any particular taxpayer”—could come into play. Violations of this provision are punishable by imprisonment for up to five years and a potential fine of $250,000.

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