Top IRS official will invoke the Fifth Amendment in congressional hearing about tea party targeting program

By  David Martosko

PUBLISHED: 16:14 EST, 21 May  2013 |  UPDATED: 16:51  EST, 21 May 2013

 

The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday  afternoon that Lois Lerner, who heads up the Internal Revenue Service’s  tax-exempt division, plans to invoke the Fifth Amendment to the U.S.  Constitution in a hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and  Government Affairs.

The Fifth Amendment provides that U.S.  citizens may not be compelled to offer testimony if telling the truth would  incriminate them.

Lerner’s defense lawyer, William W. Taylor  III, wrote to the committee on Tuesday that his client would refuse to answer  questions related to what she knew about the extra levels of scrutiny applied to  conservative nonprofit organizations that applied for tax-exempt status  beginning in 2010.

Lois Lerner heads the IRS's Exempt Organizations division. Her lawyer says she will plead the Fifth Amendment on Wednesday to avoid answering questions about her agency's tea party scandal during a congressional hearing 

Lois Lerner heads the IRS’s Exempt Organizations  division. Her lawyer says she will plead the Fifth Amendment on Wednesday to  avoid answering questions about her agency’s tea party scandal during a  congressional hearing

IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C. is fast becoming the epicenter of the tea party probe, despite an Inspector General report that focused on employees in Cincinnati, Ohio 

IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C. is fast becoming  the epicenter of the tea party probe, despite an Inspector General report that  focused on employees in Cincinnati, Ohio

She also will decline to say why she didn’t  disclose what she knew to Congress, according to the LA  Times.

Lerner ‘has not committed any crime or made  any misrepresentation,’ Taylor’s  letter read, ‘but under the circumstances she  has no choice but to take  this course.’

He is asking the oversight committee to  excuse Lerner from testifying, claiming that calling her in a congressional  hearing would ‘have no purpose other than to embarrass or burden her’ since  members would not expect her to answer questions.

 

Ahmad Ali, a committee spokesman, told  MailOnline that ‘Ms. Lerner remains under subpoena from Chairman Issa to appear  at tomorrow’s hearing – the Committee has a Constitutional obligation to conduct  oversight.’

‘Chairman [Darrel] Issa remains hopeful that  she will ultimately decide to testify tomorrow about her knowledge of outrageous  IRS targeting of Americans for their political beliefs.’

The IRS applied special criteria to  conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status, putting them on a ‘Be On  The Lookout’ (BOLO) list, based on the groups’ names and political  philosophies.

President Barack Obama has said he was  unaware of the program until May 10, when excerpts of an IRS Inspector General  Report on the practice were leaked to reporters.

Jay Carney, the Obama administration's designated flak-catcher, insists that the president didn't know about the IRS targeting tea party groups until he learned about it during a TV news broadcast 

Jay Carney, the Obama administration’s designated  flak-catcher, insists that the president didn’t know about the IRS targeting tea  party groups until he learned about it during a TV news broadcast

But Jay Carney, the president’s chief  spokesman, confirmed Monday that senior White House staff, including White House  Counsel Kathy Ruemmler and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, knew about the IRS’s  habits as early as April 24, and chose not to tell Obama.

The Inspector General report found that  Lerner and other IRS were notified in or before June 2011 that some staff in the  agency’s Cincinnati, Ohio office were using ‘tea party,’ ‘patriots’ and other  key words to add applicants to the BOLO list.

Once on that list, the groups were subjected  to additional auditing of their financial practices, their membership and their  political activities.

Despite knowing about the program, Lerner and  other senior IRS staffers withheld the information from Congress despite  receiving several requests from House committees whose members heard from  constituents that their tea party groups’ tax-exempt approvals were taking as  long as two years to be resolved.

The House Oversight and Government Affairs  Committee was among those that specifically asked the IRS whether it was  inspecting tea party groups more closely than other applicants, including those  on the political left.

Under mounting pressure, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday in the East Room of the White House that acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller would be stepping down 

Under mounting pressure, President Barack Obama  announced May 15 in the East Room of the White House that acting IRS  Commissioner Steven Miller would be stepping down. It emerged hours later,  however, that Miller’s term as acting commissioner was already scheduled to end  in early June

Lerner herself launched her agency’s scandal  with a planted question-and-answer exchange during a May 10 American Bar  Association conference.

Asked the pre-arranged question, Lerner  responded by conceding that her employees had acted inappropriately.

‘Instead of referring to the cases as  advocacy cases, they actually used case names on this list,’ she told the  assembled tax lawyers.

‘They used names like “tea party” or  “Patriots,” and they selected cases simply because the applications had those  names in the title.That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, insensitive,  and inappropriate — that’s not how we go about selecting cases for further  review.’

She later claimed that the increase in  scrutiny of tea party groups was due to an influx of new applications from  right-wing organizations, following the Supreme Court’s ‘Citizens United’  ruling, which opened the floodgates to greater political participation by  nonprofit advocacy groups.

The Washington Post called that claim bogus,  however, with the newspaper’s fact checker awarding it a ‘four Pinocchios’  rating for dishonesty.

FOUR PINOCCHIOS: 'Between 2010 and 2012, we started seeing a very big uptick in the number of 501(c)(4) applications we were receiving,' Lerner claimed, but the Washington Post determined that wasn't true. 

FOUR PINOCCHIOS: ‘Between 2010 and 2012, we started  seeing a very big uptick in the number of 501(c)(4) applications we were  receiving,’ Lerner claimed, but the Washington Post determined that wasn’t  true.

Lerner’s boss, acting IRS commissioner Steven  Miller, was relieved of his post by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew last week,  although the term of his appointment to the job was already scheduled to end in  early June.

Other higher-ups inside the IRS have not been  publicly held accountable for the improper targeting of conservative  organizations.

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