Retired IRS official Lerner held in contempt in Tea Party controversy
WASHINGTON — House Republicans voted on Wednesday to hold a former Internal Revenue Service official in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify at a pair of committee hearings about her role in the agency's Tea Party controversy.
The House passed a nonbinding resolution calling on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS.
Lois Lerner directed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. A year ago this week, Lerner publicly disclosed that agents had improperly singled out Tea Party applications for extra, sometimes burdensome, scrutiny.
An inspector general's report blamed poor management but found no evidence of a political conspiracy.
Many Republicans in Congress believe otherwise.
“Who's been fired over the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS? No one that I'm aware of,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Who's gone to jail for violating the law? When is the administration going to tell the American people the truth?”
House Democrats said the voting was little more than an election-year ploy to fire up the GOP base.
“Instead of passing bipartisan legislation to create more jobs, reform immigration, raise the minimum wage or address any number of issues that affect our constituents every single day, House Republicans are spending this entire week trying to manufacture scandals for political purposes,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee.
“Welcome to witch hunt week,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
The vote to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress was 231 to 187, with all Republicans voting in favor and all but a few Democrats voting against.
Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions at a pair of hearings by the oversight committee. House Republicans say she waived her constitutional right by making an opening statement in which she proclaimed her innocence.
The matter goes to Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Federal law says Machen has a “duty” to bring the matter before a grand jury. But a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said it was unclear whether the duty is mandatory or discretionary. Machen was appointed to his job by President Obama.
“We will carefully review the report from the speaker of the House and take whatever action is appropriate,” Machen's office said in a statement.
The vote calling on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel was 250 to 168, with all Republicans voting in favor and most Democrats voting against. Attorney General Eric Holder has denied previous requests to appoint a special counsel, saying it was unwarranted.
Three congressional committees and the Justice Department have spent much of the past year investigating the IRS over its handling of applications for tax-exempt status.
So far, the congressional investigations have revealed that IRS officials in Washington were more involved in handling the applications than the agency initially acknowledged.
However, the probes have not publicly established anyone outside the IRS knew about the targeting or directed it.
Cummings released a report this week saying oversight committee investigators have interviewed 39 witnesses and found no involvement by the White House and no political conspiracy by IRS officials. Instead, many IRS witnesses said they lacked clear guidance from management on how to handle Tea Party applications, the report said.
“Who told Lois Lerner to target conservative Americans?” Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., said at a news conference sponsored by several Tea Party groups. “That's what we don't know. That's what we need to know.”
Lerner sat for a lengthy interview with Justice Department investigators, said her lawyer, William W. Taylor III. The interview was done “without conditions,” he said.
Lerner wouldn't answer questions before the oversight committee, Taylor said, because committee Republicans were only looking to vilify her in front of TV cameras.
Taylor said in a statement on Wednesday: “Today's vote has nothing to do with the facts or the law. Its only purpose is to keep the baseless IRS ‘conspiracy' alive through the midterm elections.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Suspect in killings of wealthy D.C. family arrested
- Ex-Va. lawmaker plans to wed teen in sex scandal
- NSA extension up to senators
- S.C. beach town prepares for biker influx
- Suspect in killings of wealthy DC family arrested
- Senators push for full funding for Amtrak
- 6 Baltimore officers indicted in Gray’s death
- Eldest Duggar child admits to molesting girls as teen
- Experts cited concerns with medical scope infections in ‘09
- Obama trade bill advances in Senate
- Skateboard used in attack, officer says of shooting in Olympia, Washington