Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 6, 2016

House Republicans Ask Holder to Pursue Criminal Charges for Ex-IRS Official (Updated)

Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the Internal Revenue Service. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Lerner (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:30 p.m. | The House Ways and Means Committee voted Wednesday in support of launching a criminal investigation into the woman at the center of the IRS scandal — just one day before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is set to vote on holding Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress.

In a 23-14 party line vote, the Ways and Means panel approved submission of a formal letter to Eric H. Holder Jr., asking that the attorney general pursue charges against the former IRS official using evidence uncovered during the committee’s year-long investigation.

Wednesday’s action — coming after a rare closed-to-the-press meeting — is the latest salvo in what has rapidly escalated into a fiercely partisan battle over the extent to which lawmakers should probe Lerner’s actions.

Republicans say Lerner needs to be held to the highest level of accountability. The former IRS official oversaw the agency division responsible for approving groups for tax-exempt status, during which time she allegedly subjected conservative groups to greater scrutiny based on implied party affiliations.

“This investigation has uncovered serious, unprecedented actions taken by Lois Lerner that deprived conservative groups of their rights under the Constitution,” Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said in a statement. “DOJ has a responsibility to act.”

Camp’s 13.5-page letter seeks to make that case. It concludes that Lerner improperly influenced IRS actions against conservative organizations, impeded official investigations into the matter by providing misleading statements to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and “may have actually disclosed” confidential taxpayer information by using her personal email to conduct official business.

The memo to Holder provides excerpts from internal emails showing that Lerner was inclined from the beginning to deny tax-exempt status to Crossroads GPS, GOP operative Karl Rove’s political nonprofit. The emails quoted in the letter suggest that Lerner did not apply similar scrutiny to liberal-leaning groups.

Democrats, meanwhile, argue that while there might have been serious concerns about Lerner’s involvement early on, Republicans have now turned their investigation into a partisan witch hunt to score political points in an election year.

The Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday debated the letter to Holder in an unusual closed-door executive session that lasted for two hours, a move Democrats fought but on which they were ultimately overruled. Panel member Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said afterwards that the committee would release a transcript of the private proceedings in the days ahead, with certain sensitive information redacted.

Ranking member Sander M. Levin, D-Mich., released a copy of his prepared remarks at the start of that executive session. He called the Holder letter redundant, given the Justice Department’s pending investigation into Lerner’s actions and into the IRS scandal overall, and accused Camp of publicizing “previously protected taxpayer information” for political gain.

Releasing a private citizen’s tax information is almost unprecedented, Levin said. Ways and Means Democrats believe the last time the panel used confidential taxpayer information in its investigative work was in 1974, and it related to disgraced President Richard M. Nixon.

“I was among the first to call for Lois Lerner to resign and for her to be relieved from her duties,” Levin said. “It now seems clear that Republican members of the Ways and Means Committee have decided that they do not want to be left behind in the Republican campaign to declare this a scandal and keep it going until November.”

Speaking to reporters after the committee reconvened to vote to advance the letter, Camp wouldn’t respond directly to Democrats’ charges that the panel’s investigation was tantamount to “political theater.”

“We have the right and an obligation to protect the American people and we have a right to oversee the IRS and to hold them to account for their actions,” said Camp, who recently announced he would not seek re-election. “Had I gotten documents from the IRS in a timely way, this might have concluded much sooner.”

And as for Crossroads GPS, Doggett suggested that Lerner was probably on the right track in the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling Citizens United, which changed the campaign finance landscape and has also pitted Democrats against Republicans in deploring or lauding the fallout, respectively.

“This is all about Karl Rove,” Doggett told reporters afterwards. “So long as the focus is solely on the IRS and not on Crossroads GPS, Rove wins. It is about whether he can use tens of millions of secret, corporate dollars to pollute our democracy while claiming to be a tax exempt ‘social welfare’ organization.”

Matt Fuller contributed to this report.

  • Steve Dietrich

    How can someone like Holder who is buried up to his eyeballs in scandals and already has been held in contempt of congress, prosecute someone who is connected to his boss?

    • Brenda Huddleston

      I know Steve. It seems like a lost cause, but I am very happy that the GOP is at least trying. At the very least it will keep it up front and not just let it go.

    • betsym

      Steve, that is pure unadulterated b.s. Holder is not buried up to his eyeballs in scandals, that’s just one of the right wing pieces of crap. Not only that but for you to insinuate that the President is in this too, is just plain ludicrous. Again right wing conspiracy theories. Always the same old s**t. And by the way, I’m a Republican, but can’t stand the party today. They are a bunch of rich bigoted people who only care about keeping their pockets lined with corrupt lobbyist money.

      • Steve Dietrich

        betsym, I’m a Conservative, no left or right wing, and there is no love lost for the Republicans. However, Holder should have been removed from office when he was cited for contempt of congress, (the only sitting cabinet member in US history). But, will see tomorrow if she’s charged. I’m betting Holder will do nothing. So lets wait and see.

        • Jim

          He should have been removed from office because of not prosecuting the bank failures and the prior Administrations contempt for the rule of law and the Constitution. We can both with for it to happen still but you know the saying, wish in one hand, crap in the other-See which one fills up first.

        • Jim

          BYW-The Republican majority in the House has come up with all kinds of innovative ways to obstruct justice and preserve their control. Holder’s citation is no different.

  • Swami_Binkinanda

    A clever attempt to obscure the facts with ginned up hyperbole and screeching. I think the IRS needs an Ed Snowden to let out the real facts behind this tomfoolery-the GOP and its backers have huge amounts of dark funding which is funneled through a multitude of fudged together groups to support the agenda of a few billionaire hobbyists who think they have the right and duty to run other peoples’ lives, like plantation owners.

  • sharsand

    this, of course, is a scandal of the right-wing’s making, just like Benghazi. Say it enough times and people will believe it. The fact of the matter is, they looked into both parties and the really important fact is that religious organizations with tax-exempt benefits are pushing political allies, which is simply wrong and should be investigated.

  • sameolbs

    MSM (that’s you) dragging their feet on Elijah Cummings email corruption.

  • Jim

    I think Holder should investigate Lerner, Cheney, Bush, Tenet, Mitchell, Boehner, etc et al ad nauseum. Throw Dimon, both the Koch’s and Citicorp, Monsanto and Halliburton too. Ain’t gonna happen unfortunately.

  • Dick Fox

    Asking Holder to do something is a waste of time. He has done nothing and he plans to do nothing except protect the criminal in the White House.

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