House Republican leaders want to drag Lois Lerner, the woman at the center of the Internal Revenue Service targeting scandal, back into the spotlight. In a letter to new Attorney General Loretta Lynch, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and 23 members of his panel are demanding that the Department of Justice open an investigation into alleged abuses of power at the nation’s tax collection agency.
Lerner is the former head of the agency Exempt Organizations Division, which processes applications for tax-exempt status. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, there was a rash of new applications to create tax-exempt committees that could take advantage of looser rules on political donations. Lerner’s office, it was later claimed, created a system meant to streamline the approval process by identifying the groups whose applications required extra processing via a keyword search.
The words that the agency adopted, however, appeared to be skewed in such a way that more conservative organizations were caught in the filter than liberal-leaning organizations, creating a situation in which Republican-backed groups saw more delays in the approval process than Democratic-backed groups did.
In May of 2013, the IRS admitted targeting conservative groups. The Washington Post wrote, “The Internal Revenue Service on Friday apologized for targeting groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, confirming long-standing accusations by some conservatives that their applications for tax-exempt status were being improperly delayed and scrutinized.”
Lerner memorably declined to answer questions by taking the 5th Amendment last year in front of a House Oversight and Investigations Committee meeting. Despite calls from the GOP for legal charges to be brought, the Department of Justice under former Attorney General Eric Holder declined to pursue the case.
Rep. Ryan and his colleagues want that to change. In the letter to Lynch, they wrote:
“The American people deserve the truth as to how the IRS was used as a political tool to target and harass Americans for their beliefs. More than a year ago, the Ways & Means Committee sent the Department of Justice evidence of criminal acts that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“It is outrageous that despite having evidence right at their fingertips, the DOJ has refused to investigate potential criminal acts taken by Lois Lerner at the IRS. The administration’s silence on this targeting might as well imply its consent of these abusive actions. I hope the new attorney general will take this investigation seriously. The American people deserve answers and to know that justice will be served.”
Lerner was much in the news last year after the IRS admitted that it had lost many of the emails she sent during her time at the agency, an announcement that fed GOP narratives of a coverup as well as exposing shoddy recordkeeping practices at the IRS.
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