Lois Lerner, head of the IRS division that targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status, officially “retired” from the agency this week.
Her departure followed an investigation by an Internal Revenue Service accountability review board, which concluded that the government employee of more than three decades was guilty of “neglect of duties.”
Had Lerner not retired, said Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, the IRS review board would have recommended that she be fired.
Levin was among the first lawmakers on either side of the aisle to call for Lerner to step down. And, now that she has done so, he thinks there no reason for House Republicans to continue investigating the IRS except to get as much political mileage as possible out of the scandal.
But Rep. Darrell Issa, who represents parts of South County and chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sees things differently.
“We still don’t know,” he said this week, “why Lois Lerner, as a senior IRS official, had such a personal interest in directing scrutiny, and why she denied improper conduct to Congress. Her departure does not answer these questions or diminish the committee’s interest in hearing her testimony.”
Indeed, in Lerner’s lone appearance before Rep. Issa’s committee, she read a brief statement proclaiming her innocence, then refused to answer questions from lawmakers, invoking her right against self-incrimination.
The former IRS official enjoyed that prerogative, of course. But it is, nonetheless, profoundly troubling when government officials, like Lerner, hide behind the Fifth Amendment to avoid fully disclosing what they know about violations of the public trust.
We understand that Rep. Levin and other House Democrats want to move on. We also recognize that there are other important issues facing the lower chamber, none more so than the contentious issue of raising the debt ceiling before the federal government runs out of money and has to shut down.
Yet, it would be premature to close the books on the IRS scandal without clearing up discrepancies in unsworn public statements by Lerner prior to her nontestimony on Capitol Hill.
For instance, in an appearance before the American Bar Association, Lerner stated that her division was overwhelmed when the number of organizations applying for 501(c)(4) status “more than doubled” from 2010-12.
She apologized that her staff took certain shortcuts. But she attributed those shortcuts to workload rather than politics.
The Washington Post declared that claim “a red herring.” There was a jump in applications, as she suggested. But it did not come until 2011, according to the Post, “long after the targeting of conservative groups had been implemented.”
Lerner still has some explaining to do. And the place for the retired IRS official to do it is before Rep. Issa’s committee.
From the Orange County Register