Ex-IRS official Lerner is sent to face justice
Nearly a year to the day after she revealed the IRS gave inappropriate scrutiny to some groups applying for tax-exempt status, the House voted Wednesday to declare Lois G. Lerner in contempt of Congress for blocking its investigation, sending her case to the legal system.
Six Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the citation, underscoring the deep political divisions over the way Republicans have handled their probe into her activities.
But minutes later, more than two dozen Democrats joined Republicans to vote on a resolution asking the Justice Department to name a special prosecutor to look into the question of IRS targeting more broadly. That vote underscored the political danger some Democrats believe they face back home from the IRS scandal.
The request for a prosecutor is nonbinding and is likely to be dismissed by the Obama administration, which has denied any political motivation in the tax agency’s missteps and argues that the Republican probes are off base.
Republicans, though, said the votes sent a signal that the IRS is not above the law and that Ms. Lerner in particular must be made to answer for her role in the targeting.
“The American people are owed a government they can trust, not a government that they fear,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican. “The only way to rebuild this trust is to investigate exactly how these abuses occurred and to ensure they never happen again.”
William W. Taylor III, Ms. Lerner’s attorney, said the vote was part of a Republican effort “to keep the baseless IRS ‘conspiracy’ alive through the midterm elections.”
“Ms. Lerner has not committed contempt of Congress. She did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights by proclaiming her innocence,” he said. “We provided our legal analysis to the committee and the House, and we received no response. It is unfortunate that the majority party in the House has put politics before a citizen’s constitutional rights.”
The vote on finding Ms. Lerner in contempt of Congress was 231-187. The vote on asking for a special prosecutor was 250-168.
Ms. Lerner was head of the IRS division responsible for approving applications for tax-exempt status at the time that employees were subjecting tea party and other conservative groups’ applications to improper scrutiny, according to an internal audit.