House Oversight Committee Holding Lerner Contempt Vote Next Week

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Thursday, 03 Apr 2014 04:54 PM

By Todd Beamon

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will vote next week on whether to hold retired IRS supervisor Lois Lerner in contempt for refusing to answer questions on the targeting of tea party and conservative groups, Rep. Darrell Issa said on Thursday.

"Documents and testimony point to Lois Lerner as a senior IRS official responsible for conduct that deprived Americans of their rights to free speech and equal protection under our laws," Issa, the committee's chairman, said in a statement. "Americans expect accountability and want Congress to do all it can to gather relevant evidence about what occurred and who was responsible so that this never happens again.

"Ms. Lerner’s involvement in wrongdoing and refusal to meet her legal obligations has left the committee with no alternative but to consider a contempt finding," he said.

The committee will vote next Thursday, Issa said. If approved, the contempt resolution would be sent to the full House for a vote. Lerner could face jail if the lower chamber finds her in contempt.

Lerner, who retired last September in light of the scandal, has invoked her Fifth Amendment rights twice when she was questioned by the committee on the scrutiny of the groups starting in 2010 and just before the 2012 presidential election.

She oversaw the IRS division that reviewed the groups' application for tax-exempt status.

Lerner was put on administrative leave after she first appeared before the oversight panel last May. She denied wrongdoing but refused to answer any questions, citing her constitutional right against self-incrimination.

"I have done nothing wrong. I have not broken any laws," she said in her opening statement at that hearing. "I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee."

The next month, however, the committee voted 22-17 that Lerner had waived her Fifth Amendment rights by making the statement before declining to testify.

Her second appearance before the panel was in March. That brief appearance was largely overshadowed by an angry confrontation between Issa and Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings as the hearing adjourned.

Issa, who ordered that Cummings' microphone be cut off as he was speaking, apologized to Cummings the next day.

In addition, Lerner's attorney revealed earlier this month that she had discussed the case with the Justice Department. The lawyer, Bill Taylor, did not disclose the date of the meeting and indicated that his client was not under oath in the private meeting. Issa also has queried Justice on the session.

The scandal erupted last May when a Treasury Department inspector general revealed that nonprofit tea party, conservative, and religious groups had been singled out for special scrutiny by the IRS for their tax-exempt applications.

According to the inspector general's report, IRS agents placed groups with words like "tea party and "patriot" in their names on a "be on the lookout" — or BOLO — list for additional screening of its applications for 501(c)(4) status. The status allows groups to keep their donors private.

President Barack Obama fired Steven Miller, the head of the IRS, who apologized in testimony to the Ways and Means Committee, calling it "horrible customer service."

Miller, who had been a deputy commissioner who oversaw the unit that Lerner supervised, was briefed about the practice by IRS officials after May 2012.

At least three other IRS officials had been replaced or were put on administrative leave.

The inspector general's report followed. But before it was released, Lerner disclosed the scandal in response to a question that she had been asked at a law conference in Chicago. The person asking the question turned out to be a plant Lerner had met the day before.

"Lerner is the only IRS official who has refused to testify before Congress in the IRS targeting investigation," Issa said in the statement released Thursday. "At one point, her lawyer actually told the committee she was ready to testify publicly, but subsequently rescinded that offer."

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