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EDITORIAL: Former IRS official Lois Lerner wants testimony kept from the public

Do you remember Lois Lerner, the former director of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Division, who participated in the agency’s delay and denial of nonprofit status to conservative political groups to diminish their influence on the 2012 election?

In September 2013, Lerner retired rather than be fired for her role in that targeting. And now she trying to keep confidential the details of the agency’s actions.

As the Washington Times reports, Ms. Lerner and Holly Paz, her deputy at the IRS, have responded by filing documents in court saying tapes and transcripts of depositions they gave in an Ohio case earlier this year related to the scandal must remain sealed forever or they will be subject to attacks by an angry public.

As the Times reports, the government settled the lawsuit in question and another tea party challenge in the District of Columbia in two agreements last month, admitting to illegal behavior. The Ohio settlement also called for the government to shell out $3.5 million to the tea party groups.

Ms. Lerner and Ms. Paz now claim that there is no reason for their testimony to ever be released given that the case has been settled.

In other words, the taxpayers should have no right to access details of a government settlement involving abuse of power allegations against powerful public officials. How are members of the public supposed to judge whether they got their money’s worth if they aren’t allowed to examine the testimony of those involved?

The women are particularly concerned about the potential actions of Mark Mackler, a tea party leader whose group helped fund the class-action lawsuit, and who has openly called IRS agents “criminal thugs.” But Mr. Mackler’s hyperbole isn’t reason enough to throw a blanket of secrecy over such a high-profile case.

Mr. Mackler rightly points out that if the depositions don’t shed light on any misdeeds by Ms. Lerner, then she shouldn’t be afraid to release them to the public.

“The reality is because she knows she is guilty as the day is long and she doesn’t want people to know what she actually did,” he told the Times. “It’s hard to have any sympathy for the women. And frankly, I don’t believe she’s genuinely scared.”

The Trump administration backs making the documents public. So does the Cincinnati Enquirer, the newspaper that covered the Cincinnati IRS office that mishandled the tea party applications, and that Ms. Lerner initially blamed for the targeting. On the day the settlement was announced, the paper renewed its request to have the testimony of Lerner and Paz made public, arguing that the pair faces no “clear and imminent danger.”

Secrecy is an awful idea. The American people have a right to see the testimony.

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