In a partisan vote today, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee set the stage to force IRS official Lois Lerner to testify about the agency’s targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
The committee passed a resolution, 22-17, concluding that in a May 22 appearance before the committee, Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by claiming innocence.
The resolution noted Lerner stated: “I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”
The language of the resolution relied on the legal principle that “a witness may not testify voluntarily about a subject and then invoke the privilege against self-incrimination when questioned about the details.”
At issue is whether Lerner implemented a political agenda by discriminating against groups filing for tax-exempt status that have the words “tea party,” “patriot,” or “9-12” in their titles. The IRS has admitted such groups were given additional scrutiny. Some Republicans suspect the goal was to delay approval of conservative groups through the 2010 and 2012 election cycles while expediting progressive groups.
Today’s vote sets the stage for committee to recall Lerner to force her to answer specific questions about statements she made under oath during her appearance before the committee May 22.
Should Lerner refuse to appear before the committee a second time after being subpoenaed to testify, or should she still refuse to answer questions after being recalled before the committee, she may face contempt of Congress charges.
‘No wrongdoing’ strategy fails
In a hearing Thursday, committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., admonished House Democrats for allegedly seeking to derail the investigation into the IRS scandal by asserting progressive groups also were targeted by the IRS for additional scrutiny because of their political ideology.
IRS chief Daniel Werfel began his testimony by asserting an internal IRS investigation had found “no intentional wrongdoing” among IRS employees and that progressive as well as conservative groups were targeted for additional scrutiny upon applying for tax-exempt status.
Werfel’s claim that an IRS internal investigation found no wrongdoing by IRS employees in the handling of applications for tax-exempt status was countered by Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who characterized Werfel’s investigation as “incomplete.”
The attempt by Democrats to claim the IRS targeted progressive as well as conservative groups was derailed by a letter to the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, J. Russell George.
George sent a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin, D-Mich., correcting the record and strongly rebutting the ranking member’s misleading and inaccurate characterizations of the findings of the TIGTA audit.
Before receiving the TIGTA letter, Levin had released documents that he claimed showed the IRS targeted progressive groups in the same way tea party groups were targeted, signaling the beginning of an Obama administration counterattack in the mounting IRS scandal.
On Friday, Issa directly countered the Democrats strategy by publishing a sharply worded statement on the House Oversight Committee’s website in which he warned the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee and on the House Oversight Committee “to stop trying to derail the IRS investigation.”
Issa’s statement pulled no punches.
“Both the Ways and Means and Oversight Committees are methodically working through an investigation following up on the IG audit,” Issa said. “Our Democratic colleagues should stop trying to derail the investigation by defending IRS officials with distorted claims equating the systematic scrutiny of Tea Party groups with the more routine screening progressive groups received.”
Treasury IG Refutes Democratic claims
The report released this week by George concluded that 30 percent of the groups with “progressive” in their title were given extra credit, while 100 percent of groups with “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their titles were pulled out for strict scrutiny that included what the IRS has since admitted were invasive and inappropriate questions.
“While we have multiple sources of information corroborating the use of Tea Party and other related criteria we described in our report, including employee interviews, e-mails, and other documents, we found no indication in any of these other materials that ‘Progressives’ was a term used to refer cases for scrutiny for political campaign intervention,” the IG wrote.
The controversy has focused on the so-called “Be on the Lookout,” or BOLO lists, that reportedly have been used to target conservative groups for additional and prolonged scrutiny for reasons of political ideology.
George’s letter continued: “Based on information you flagged regarding the existent of a ‘Progressives’ entry on BOLO lists, TIGTA performed additional research which determined that six tax-exempt applications filed between May 2010 and May 2012 having the word ‘progress’ or ‘progressive’ in their names were included in the 298 cases the IRS identified as potential political cases. We also determined that 14 tax-exempt applications filed between May 2010 and May 2012 using the word ‘progress’ or ‘progressive’ in their names were not referred for added scrutiny as potential political cases.”
Republicans call IRS report ‘sham’
Yesterday, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, hit Werfel with a series of rapid-fire questions.
Brady demanded to know who within the IRS was responsible for initiating a wide range of “ideologically oriented” activities, including the targeting of conservative groups for additional scrutiny on their tax-exempt applications. Brady also wants to know who within the IRS was responsible for targeting the donors of conservative groups and for leaking information to the media regarding conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
“I don’t know,” was Werfel’s answer to each question Brady shot at him.
“Your report is a sham,” Brady said pointedly to Werfel, rejecting the IRS chief’s opening statement that his internal investigation had found no wrongdoing among IRS employees.
“You work for the American people and your job is not [to] cover up,” Brady said.
Appearing angered by Werfel’s answers, Brady explained sharply to Werfel that the House Ways and Means Committee intended to get the truth about the BOLO lists and IRS ideological targeting. He warned Werfel that he, too, would also be investigated if he attempted to stonewall or misrepresent facts.