April 08, 2014, 11:51 am
GOP: Here's how Lerner broke the law
By Bernie Becker
House Republicans seeking criminal charges against Lois Lerner argue the former IRS official broke the law in three ways, a House aide said Tuesday.
GOP lawmakers accuse Lerner of pushing the agency to only target conservative organizations, of misleading federal investigators, and of recklessly handling and exposing taxpayer information.
They also charge that Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the agency’s targeting controversy, blocked Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration from investigating the IRS scrutiny of Tea Party groups.
The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to vote Wednesday to refer Lerner to the Justice Department for prosecution.
Bill Taylor, an attorney for Lerner, called the accusations of law-breaking “ridiculous.”
"When people treat criminal referrals like this it demonstrates how easy it is to accuse someone of a crime and get the media to print it," he said.
If and when Ways and Means refers Lerner to Justice, the committee’s letter to Attorney General Eric Holder outlining the potential violations would become public.
The Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into the IRS’s treatment of Tea Party groups shortly after the controversy broke last May.
But the House aide said it was unlikely that the department would have the evidence included in the referral, because Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has access to confidential taxpayer information not available to Justice.
The full House would not need to act on the referral after the Ways and Means panel's action, but the Justice Department would also not be forced to seek criminal charges against Lerner, the IRS official who first apologized for the agency’s actions.
GOP lawmakers believe that their investigations won’t be comprehensive without the testimony of Lerner, who has twice refused to answer questions at House Oversight Committee hearings.
Republicans on that panel have ruled that Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights by defending herself, and saying she had broken no laws, in an opening statement last May.
The Oversight panel will vote to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress as soon as Thursday, in a separate effort to intensify the legal pressure on the former IRS official, who retired last September.
The GOP investigations into the IRS have long concentrated on the areas where Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee now believe Lerner broke the law.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and his staff have released reports in recent weeks that insist that the IRS treated conservative groups far more harshly than liberal organizations, and accuse Lerner of repeatedly lying to congressional investigators.
Lerner has already sat for an interview with the Justice Department. But her lawyer, Bill Taylor of Zuckerman Spaeder, has said she won’t talk to House Republicans he believes are only out to vilify her.