NEW YORK – The Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has now taken steps to focus on former IRS official Lois Lerner as the culprit in the administration scandal that targeted conservative organizations.
The committee is preparing the path for a vote to censure Lerner, the former director of tax-exempt organizations at the IRS, for taking the Fifth Amendment a second time after initially agreeing to testify at a committee hearing March 5, according to a the 141-page report released by committee Tuesday.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the committee chairman, said the majority report “offers detailed evidence about steps Lerner took to crack down on organizations that exercised their constitutional rights to free speech.”
The report, “Lois Lerner’s Involvement in the IRS Targeting of Tax-Exempt Organizations,” concluded that the committee’s investigation of Lerner’s “role in the IRS’s targeting of tax-exempt organizations found that she led efforts to scrutinize conservative groups while working to maintain a veneer of objective enforcement.”
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said the “maliciousness and corruption of former IRS official Lois Lerner are now clear.”
The ACLJ currently represents 41 organizations involved in a federal lawsuit challenging the IRS.
“This report underscores what we have known for many months now,” Sekulow said.
The committee said its report makes clear “the extent to which Lerner acted to ensure that the agency intentionally waged a battle against conservative 501(c)(4)’s, violating their rights of freedom of speech and association, because it had an ideological disagreement with the Supreme Court and with the Tea Party.”
“It’s not the job of the IRS to overrule the Supreme Court, and it’s not the job of the IRS to crush political movements its leaders dislike,” the committee said. “Her deep involvement in this scheme raises even more questions about who else was involved – including at the White House.”
The House committee staff report clearly indicated Lerner was responding to political pressure from Democrats in Congress to clamp down on conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status in the wake of the 2012 Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
“Through emails, documents and the testimony of other IRS officials, the committee has learned a great deal about Lois Lerner’s role in the IRS targeting scandal since the committee first issued a subpoena for her testimony,” the staff report noted.
The report’s conclusions were clear.
“She was keenly aware of acute political pressure to crack down on conservative-leaning organizations. Not only did she seek to convey her agreement with this sentiment publicly, she went so far as to engage in a wholly inappropriate effort to circumvent federal prohibitions in order to publicize her efforts to crack down on a particular Tea Party applicant. She created unprecedented roadblocks for Tea Party organizations, worked surreptitiously to advance new Obama Administration regulations that curtail the activities of existing 501(c)(4) organizations – all the while attempting to maintain an appearance that her efforts did not appear, in her own words, ‘per se political.”
The staff report specifically charged Lerner allowed her left-leaning political views to influence her administration of IRS tax-exempt rules and regulations in a partisan manner designed to discriminate against conservative groups mentioning “tea party” or “patriot” in their application for tax-exempt status and in favor of “progressive” groups.
The staff report concluded that from “her days at the Federal Election Commission, Lerner’s left-leaning politics were known and recognized.”
“Even at a supposedly apolitical agency like the IRS, her views should not have been an obstacle to fair and impartial judgment that would impair her job performance,” the report said. “But amidst a scandal in which her agency deprived Americans of their Constitutional rights, a relevant question is whether the actions she took in her job improperly reflected her political beliefs. Congressional investigators found evidence that this occurred.”
WND reported Issa adjourned last week’s hearing after asking only seven questions when Lerner asserted for a second time her Fifth Amendment privilege not to incriminate herself.
On June 28, the House Oversight Committee voted that Lerner had waived her Fifth Amendment privilege by making a voluntary opening statement asserting her innocence at a May 22 hearing.
Prior to the March 5 hearing, Lerner had indicated she would only testify in exchange for a grant of immunity; subsequently, in a series of emails between Lerner’s attorney and committee staff, she agreed to testify openly, but requested a one-week delay for the March 5 hearing.
When Issa adjourned the hearing last week, ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., objected with an angry tirade that prompted Issa to have his mic cut off.
“I am a member of the House of Representatives and I am tired of this,” Cummings asserted in an angry voice.
For several minutes after Issa gaveled the hearing to a close, Cummings continued to read his statement into a closed microphone as the hearing room emptied and Lerner sat at the witness table listening.
On Jan. 12, WND reported that the IRS has proposed new rules that would limit the ability of conservative 501(c)4 groups to participate in the mid-term elections this November as they had in 2010, when Republicans grabbed majority control of the House of Representatives.
Last week, WND reported Cleta Mitchell, a leading Washington-based attorney representing a number of grass-roots organizations claiming they were targeted by the IRS, said at the CPAC annual conference of conservatives last week that the Department of Justice had questioned Lerner sometime during the previous six months. However, the department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, so far has declined to initiate criminal prosecutions against Lerner or any other IRS officials implicated in the discrimination scandal.