Whether or not former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner committed a crime may hinge more on her actions after learning emails had been deleted, not before, former federal prosecutor Bruce Reinhart said on Newsmax TV
's "America's Forum."
"What people forget is what everyone got convicted in Watergate was not breaking into the hotel, but it was covering up the break-in into the hotel," Reinhart said. "It's often the aftermath where people make it worse than what it really is."
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Like Martha Stewart, Lerner could face criminal prosecution if she obstructed justice by trying to cover something up, according to Reinhart. Stewart received a five-month prison term
for lying about a 2001 stock sale just before the price tanked.
The Justice Department announced this week that it was launching a criminal investigation into the matter.
Asked if Lerner’s purported actions pass the "smell test," Reinhart said it’s too soon to know.
"Incompetence doesn't necessarily lead to criminality," he said. "The IRS has one of the most antiquated computer systems in the world. The fact that emails could've disappeared without Ms. Lerner knowing about it or Ms. Lerner being involved isn't a surprise to me.
"That I'm sure will be her explanation … that she was a very high level person in the department. When the subpoena came in from Congress, it was delegated down to people who did this for a living," he said. "They were instructed to find everything. Information came up back to her that said, 'This is what we have.' She reported what she was told and it turns out not to be true, but that's not a crime.
"If she didn't know it wasn't true, that's not a crime. That's probably going to be where her defense lies."
Lerner, who supervised the IRS division that reviewed applications for tax exempt status, retired last year after it was revealed that the IRS targeted certain groups – many affiliated with the tea party – for extra scrutiny.
The American people need to trust federal investigators to get to the bottom of what happened, Reinhart said, and not be so quick to assume everything is rooted in partisan politics.
"When I served there under the Clinton administration and the first Bush administration we had the same thing – where the career people at the Justice Department were investigating somebody else within the administration," he said. "The accusation was that we were a bunch of political hacks protecting the president. We were the same people. We had Republicans in office, we had Democrats in office, but we were career people working with career FBI agents just doing our jobs.
"That's the part that's offensive – that the American people should have more confidence in their government and it speaks ill of our current political situation that we don't."
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