Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

House Committees Turn Up Heat on Lois Lerner in IRS Investigations

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

House Committees Turn Up Heat on Lois Lerner in IRS Investigations

Article excerpt

The Justice Department should consider criminal prosecution of former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner for her role in controversy over the tax agency's alleged targeting of tea party groups, a Republican-controlled House committee urged Wednesday.

In a 23-to-14 vote along party lines, the House Ways and Means Committee referred the issue to the Justice Department. Republican lawmakers say Ms. Lerner could potentially be prosecuted for singling out conservative groups for scrutiny, compromising confidential taxpayer information, and misleading investigators.

In a hot-button example, the Republicans alleged that Lerner went on the attack against Crossroads GPS, an influential conservative group founded by political strategist Karl Rove, "while turning a blind eye to similarly-organized liberal groups, like Priorities USA."

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R) of Michigan released a timeline based on Lerner e-mails. According to the chronology, the IRS leaked Crossroads GPS's pending application for tax-extempt status to the investigative journalism website ProPublica, a step the timeline describes as "a violation of federal law." Mr. Camp's timeline also describes Lerner pressuring subordinates to audit Crossroads GPS and saying in a January 2013 e- mail that all IRS moves regarding Crossroads should be coordinated in Washington rather than in IRS field offices.

The Wednesday vote turns up the heat in a year-old partisan battle.

Republicans paint the actions that occurred under Lerner's oversight as a scandal of political partisanship, which the Obama administration has failed to pursue. Democrats say that view blows the tea party controversy out of proportion, and that Republicans' real focus is on scoring political points in an election year.

A separate committee, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress.

She has refused to testify to the committee, citing Fifth Amendment rights. Republicans say she waived those rights against self-incrimination by giving "a voluntary opening statement denying any wrongdoing," before her refusal to answer questions at a 2013 hearing.

The controversy surrounding the IRS centers around the agency's role in determining which groups do or don't qualify for tax-exempt status.

"Lois Lerner's testimony is critical to the Committee's investigation," a new report by the oversight panel states. "Without her testimony, the full extent of the IRS's targeting of Tea Party applications cannot be known, and the Committee will be unable to fully complete its work."

The report says that Lerner, as director of IRS units overseeing exempt organizations, had "unique, first-hand knowledge of how, and why, the IRS scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status from certain conservative-aligned groups. …

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