Lerner emails looked for way out of difficulties at the IRS
WASHINGTON — Lois Lerner, who oversaw the Internal Revenue Service's scrutiny of Tea Party groups, was looking for someone from every branch of government to help resolve the issue that eventually cost her job.
In emails released on Tuesday by a congressional committee, Lerner wondered why Congress wasn't getting more criticism, hoped that the Federal Election Commission would “save the day” and wrote that political nonprofit groups “itching for a constitutional challenge” might file a court case that would lead the IRS to accelerate the release of specific information about groups denied tax-exempt status.
The emails are part of a 141-page report from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The panel is building a case designed to lead to a vote to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer the panel's questions and for providing false and misleading information in prior questioning.
“She led efforts to scrutinize conservative groups while working to maintain a veneer of objective enforcement,” the report said of Lerner. “Her unwillingness to testify deprives Congress the opportunity to have her explain her conduct, hear her response to personal criticisms levied by her IRS coworkers, and provide vital context regarding the actions of other IRS officials.”
Lerner has refused to answer lawmakers' questions, twice invoking her constitutional right not to testify.
When she did that March 5, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., adjourned the hearing and cut off the microphones before Democrats could speak. Issa later apologized.
“As we have said, the majority has no interest in the facts,” William Taylor, Lerner's attorney, said in an email Monday night. “The facts interfere with keeping the conspiracy theory alive through the election cycle.”
Lerner was the IRS's director of exempt organizations until last year, overseeing the enforcement of rules that limit political involvement by nonprofit groups that seek tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. In response to a question last May at a tax conference, she said the IRS had singled out groups for extra scrutiny based solely on their names, including those related to the anti-tax Tea Party.
That disclosure led to multiple congressional investigations, which are still continuing, along with a Justice Department criminal probe.
President Obama forced out the acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller. Several other senior officials, including Lerner, left the tax agency.
Republicans contend that Lerner's actions were part of a pattern of politically motivated steps that included disclosure of groups' information and audits of individuals and businesses involved with small-government groups.