WASHINGTON (AP) — A former IRS official at the center of the agency's tea party controversy referred to some right-wing Republicans as "crazies" and more in emails released Wednesday. A key GOP lawmaker says the remarks show that Lois Lerner was biased against conservative groups and targeted them for extra scrutiny.
Lerner headed the IRS division that handles applications for tax-exempt status. In a series of emails with an associate in November 2012, Lerner made two disparaging remarks about some members of the GOP, including one remark that was a profane characterization.
Rep. Dave Camp, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, released the emails Wednesday as part of his committee's investigation. The Michigan Republican says the emails show Lerner's "disgust with conservatives."
In one email, Lerner called some conservatives crazies. In the other, she called them "assholes." The committee redacted the wording to "_holes" in the material it released publicly, but a committee spokeswoman confirmed to the AP that the email said "assholes."
Congress and the Justice Department are investigating whether the IRS improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups during the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Camp sent copies of the emails to the Justice Department, saying they provide further proof that Lerner willfully targeted conservatives.
"This new evidence clearly demonstrates why Ms. Lerner not only targeted conservatives, but denied such groups their rights to due process and equal protection under the law," Camp said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
Lerner retired from the IRS last fall. Her lawyer, William W. Taylor III, could not be reached for comment.
Lerner has emerged as a central figure in several congressional investigations into the tax agency's handling of applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups. Twice Lerner refused to answer questions at congressional hearings, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination.
In May, the House voted to hold her in contempt of Congress.
In June, the IRS told Congress that an untold number of Lerner's emails were lost when her computer hard drive crashed in 2011. Despite the lost emails, the IRS says it is providing congressional investigators with 67,000 emails to and from Lerner.
In the newly released emails, Lerner was apparently traveling in Great Britain in 2012 when she used her Blackberry to send a series of emails to a personal associate who did not work at the IRS. Camp said Lerner was using her government email account.
Lerner tells the person that she overheard some women say America was bankrupt and "going down the tubes."
"Well, you should hear the whacko wing of the GOP," replied the person, whose name was blacked out by Camp's office. "The US is through; too many foreigners sucking the teat; time to hunker down, buy ammo and food, and prepare for the end. The right wing radio shows are scary to listen to."
Lerner replies: "Great. Maybe we are through if there are that many assholes."
The other person replies: "And I'm talking about the hosts of the shows. The callers are rabid."
Lerner: "So we don't need to worry about alien teRrorists. It's our own crazies that will take us down."
"This email shows that Ms. Lerner's mistreatment of conservative groups was driven by her personal hostility toward conservatives," Camp said in the letter to Holder.
Lerner is an attorney who joined the IRS in 2001. She retired last fall, ending a 34-year career in federal government, which included work at the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission.
Lerner is the IRS official who first publicly disclosed in May 2013 that agents had improperly singled out tea party and other conservative groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt-status. At the time, Lerner said a small group of agents working in a Cincinnati office were responsible. She apologized on behalf of the IRS.
A May 2013 report by the agency's inspector general blamed mismanagement by IRS officials for the way tea party applications were handled. But the report did not provide any proof of political bias on the part of agents.
In fact, the report noted that Lerner tried to stop the targeting once she learned that tea party and other conservative groups were being improperly singled out.
Since then, Republicans in Congress have been working to prove that conservatives were targeted as part of a conspiracy to stifle groups based on their political beliefs. Congressional investigators have shown that IRS officials in Washington were closely involved in the processing of tea party applications, many of which were delayed for several years.
However, congressional investigators have produced no evidence that anyone outside the IRS — including at the White House — directed the targeting or even knew about it.
Camp said the new emails provide evidence that a key IRS official may have been motivated by politics.
Washington, D.C.– Today, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-14) voted for and the House passed H.Res. 676, a resolution to authorize the Speaker of the House to take legal action against President Obama for violating the U.S. Constitution by unilaterally making laws during the implementation of Obamacare.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — Racing against time, members of a Japanese organization are combing a New York military museum's World War II records for information they hope will lead to the graves of American servicemen still listed as missing in action on Saipan.
The reason for the urgency: A developer plans to begin construction in the fall on a condominium near the beach where scores of Americans were killed on July 7, 1944, during Japan's largest mass suicide attack of the war.
Kuentai-USA, a nonprofit group that searches Pacific islands for Japan's war dead, found the remains of at least two American fighting men near the construction site in 2011 and 2013, and believes as many as 16 others are buried nearby.
"This is urgent," said Kuentai-USA founder Usan Kurata, a 58-year-old journalist who is visiting the New York State Military Museum this week with another group leader, both from Kyoto. He said the Japanese organization believes that returning Americans' remains to their families is the right thing to do.
The Pentagon agency in charge of searching foreign battlefields for America's dead says about 20 U.S. servicemen are unaccounted for on Saipan, part of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth 1,400 miles (2,250 kilometers) from Japan.
Maj. Jamie Dobson, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii-based U.S. Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command, said that developers must follow Saipan's stringent historic preservation laws and that if a probable burial site is found to be in imminent danger, the U.S. will send a recovery team.
Kuentai said it has an agreement with the Russian developer of the condo project to excavate the property for remains, but the group is still awaiting final approval from local authorities.
The researchers' visit to the U.S. comes 70 years after more than 3,000 Japanese troops launched the assault that killed or wounded more than 900 soldiers in the Army's 105th Regiment, part of the 27th Infantry Division, a former New York National Guard unit.
Many of the Americans killed in the "banzai" attack were from New York state. The museum holds many of the 27th Division's records, including enlistment cards, rosters, regimental yearbooks, photographs and other documents.
Using battlefield photos published in Life magazine in August 1944 and military maps at the National Archives in Washington, Kuentai located a mass grave containing the skeletal remains of nearly 800 Japanese troops. The bones were cremated and the ashes brought back to Japan for burial.
During its excavations, the group also discovered the remains of five probable American soldiers. JPAC said two have been identified so far as MIAs from the 105th Regiment, and they were returned for burial in their home states of Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
JPAC and the Defense Department's other casualty accounting agency, the Defense POW-MIA Office, are the subject of a Pentagon inspector general's investigation of potential fraud and waste.
In March, after The Associated Press reported the failings of the military's MIA accounting effort, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a shake-up that includes combining the functions of the two entities into a new agency.
WASHINGTON (AP) — With a new Veterans Affairs secretary in place and an August recess looming, Congress is moving quickly to approve a compromise bill to refurbish the VA and improve veterans' health care.
The House took up the bill on Wednesday, with a Senate vote expected soon after as lawmakers rush to complete their work before leaving town this weekend for a five-week recess.
Congressional budget analysts estimated the bill would cost about $16.3 billion over three years, slightly less than a $17 billion estimate provided by the bill's sponsors.
The bill is expected to add $10 billion to the federal deficit over 10 years after cost-savings such as changes in a veterans' retirement program and reimbursements by insurance companies are included, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said.
The measure, unveiled Monday by the chairmen of the House and Senate veterans affairs committees, is intended help veterans avoid long waits for health care, hire more doctors and nurses to treat them and make firing senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department easier.
The House vote could come just one day after the Senate confirmed former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald to lead the sprawling agency, which provides health care to nearly 9 million enrolled veterans and disability compensation to nearly 4 million veterans.
McDonald, 61, of Cincinnati, will replace Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, who took over in May after Eric Shinseki resigned amid a growing uproar over reports of long veterans' waits for health care and VA workers falsifying records to cover up delays.
McDonald has pledged to transform the VA and promised that "systematic failures" must be addressed. He said improving patient access to health care was a top priority, along with restoring transparency, accountability and integrity to the VA.
"In the wake of the biggest scandal in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald certainly has his work cut out for him," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
In order to be successful, McDonald "will need to take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department's culture of complacency with a climate of accountability," Miller said.
Miller is a co-sponsor of the VA overhaul bill, along with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., his counterpart in the Senate veterans' panel.
The measure includes $10 billion in emergency spending to help veterans who can't get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.3 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country.
Despite the steep cost, Miller said he is confident he can sell the bill to fellow Republicans, including tea party members.
"Taking care of our veterans is not an inexpensive proposition, and our members understand that," he said. "The VA has caused this problem and one of the ways that we can help solve it is to give veterans a choice, a choice to stay in the system or a choice to go out of the system" to get government-paid health care from a private doctor.
The VA has been rocked by reports of patients dying while awaiting treatment and mounting evidence that workers falsified or omitted appointment schedules to mask frequent, long delays.
The compromise measure would require the VA to pay private doctors to treat qualifying veterans who can't get prompt appointments at the VA's nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics, or those who live at least 40 miles from one of them. Only veterans who are enrolled in VA care as of Aug. 1 or live at least 40 miles away would be eligible to get outside care.
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A drone carrying cellphones, marijuana and other contraband into a South Carolina maximum-security prison never made it inside the 12-foot-high razor wire fence, and authorities said Wednesday they are looking for one of two people accused in connection with trying to sneak it in.
The search has been ongoing since April 21, when officials found a small, crashed drone in bushes outside the walls of Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, according to Corrections Department spokeswoman Stephanie Givens. At the site, Givens said that officers also found materials that inmates aren't supposed to have, including the phones, tobacco products, marijuana and synthetic marijuana. One person has been arrested.
Givens said officials aren't sure exactly where the drone would have gone if it made it over the wall. According to Givens, this is the first time officials know of a drone being used to smuggle banned items into a South Carolina prison. Last fall, four people in Georgia were accused of using a remote-controlled drone to fly tobacco and cellphones into a state prison there.
"The technology gets better and better, and we have to figure out how to fight that," Givens said.
Corrections officials have long said that the use of banned cellphones behind bars is a security threat to both agency officers and the public. In 2010, then-Corrections Capt. Robert Johnson was shot six times at his Sumter home in a hit police said was orchestrated by an inmate using a cellphone smuggled into prison. Johnson, who worked at Lee, survived and has since retired.
In the South Carolina done case, one person has been charged with drug possession and trying to give contraband materials to inmates. Court records listed no attorney for 28-year-old Brenton Lee Doyle, and Givens said that he has not been cooperative with investigators.
Authorities are seeking a second man seen on convenience store surveillance images buying some of the products later found with the crashed drone, Givens said.