Even as Obama vowed that his administration “will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this,” however, the IRS offered no new information on how it selected which groups to single out for scrutiny.
The White House is legally barred from contacting the IRS about a tax matter, under a prohibition adopted after the Watergate scandal. And although it can contact the Treasury Department about tax issues, neither Treasury nor the IRS can disclose specific taxpayer information. The IRS can release information about a petition for tax-
exempt status only after it has been approved.
Obama is not in a position to remove Lerner, a career official who can be terminated for cause only under normal civil service proceedings. The IRS has two political appointees: the commissioner, who serves a five-year term, and the chief counsel.
As the IRS came under broader political attack Monday, more details surfaced on how the exempt-organizations division struggled to determine which nonprofits should receive “social welfare” status after the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. That decision, which allowed corporations and unions to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, opened the door for groups to accept undisclosed contributions as long as their “primary purpose” was not politics.