WASHINGTON – A House panel voted along party lines today to refer Lois Lerner, the former IRS director of tax-exempt organizations, to the Justice Department for criminal investigation.
The House Oversight Committee is expected on Thursday to vote along party lines to charge Lerner with contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions before Congress on May 22, 2013, and as WND reported, again on March 5 at hearings titled “Targeting Americans for their Political Beliefs.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, has argued Lerner effectively waived her Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions by reading an opening statement proclaiming her innocence before invoking her self-incrimination rights.
“Documents and testimony point to Lois Lerner as a senior IRS official responsible for conduct that deprived Americans of their rights to free speech and equal protection under our laws,” said Issa.
“Americans expect accountability and want Congress to do all it can to gather relevant evidence about what occurred and who was responsible so that this never happens again,” he said. “Ms. Lerner’s involvement in wrongdoing and refusal to meet her legal obligations has left the Committee with no alternative but to consider a contempt finding.”
As WND reported, in a House Oversight Committee report released March 11 titled “Lois Lerner’s Involvement in the IRS Targeting of Tax-Exempt Organizations,” Republican majority staff charged Lerner with presiding over discrimination against tea party and other conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
The House Oversight Committee majority staff report also charged that Lerner worked on restrictive rules that would apply selectively to tea party and other conservative groups after President Obama and other prominent Democrats expressed outrage at the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision.
The March 11 report concluded:
“She (Lerner) 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 House report linked statements made by Obama in speeches delivered during the 2010 mid-term election attacking the Citizens United Supreme Court decision with emails and speeches Lerner subsequently wrote expressing her intent to administer the IRS tax-exempt division in a partisan manner in compliance with Obama’s implicit suggestions on the campaign trail.
The decision by House Republicans not to grant Lerner immunity reflects a growing concern that her strongly partisan pro-Obama politics could compromise the depth and sincerity of her testimony should she be forced to answer questions.
If the full House of Representatives ultimately holds Lerner in contempt, the statute directs the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia “to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.”
WND reported in January that the IRS 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 won majority control of the House of Representatives.
Last month, WND reported Cleta Mitchell, a leading Washington-based attorney representing a number of grass-roots organizations claiming they were targeted by the IRS, said 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.