DOJ Won’t Charge Lois Lerner With Contempt
Eric Holder’s Justice Department informed congressional Republicans this week that it will not seek charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner for criminal contempt.
In a seven-page letter to Republicans this week, former D.C. U.S. attorney Ronald Machen explained that while the Oversight Committee “followed proper procedures” when it told Lerner that it rejected her Fifth Amendment plea, DOJ lawyers determined that Lerner “did not waive her Fifth Amendment right by making an opening statement on May 22, 2013, because she made only a general claims of innocence.”
“Given that assessment, we have further concluded that it is not appropriate for a United States attorney to present the matter to the grand jury for action where, as here, the Constitution prevents the witness from being prosecuted for contempt,” concluded Machen.
Machen’s office had been reviewing the committee’s criminal contempt case against Lerner since the House approved the resolution in May 2014.
Lerner’s camp cheered the news, her attorney William Taylor III saying that any “serious and impartial” examination of the events would come to the same conclusion. In his response, Taylor also worked in a predictable jab at Republicans, saying, “It is unfortunate that the majority party in the House put politics before a citizen’s constitutional rights.”
Republicans have accused the former IRS chief of using her division to single out conservative nonprofit groups for political purposes. The controversy was heightened when the IRS claimed it had “lost” two years of emails in 2011 due to crash. Despite stating that those emails were permanently lost, the IRS inspector general later announced that the “lost” emails had been located. Politico provides some background:
Lerner, who led the IRS unit that subjected conservative nonprofits to additional scrutiny, quickly became the face of the scandal when she revealed the practice during an obscure tax conference on May 9, 2013. At the time, Lerner and the IRS blamed “frontline” employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office for any violations, though later it became clear that IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C. was holding up approval of the nonprofit groups’ tax status for years at time.
When initially summoned to Capitol Hill to answer for the scandal in May 2013, Lerner took the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions. Lawmakers would eventually hold her in contempt of Congress when she, again, asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege at the second hearing in March 2014.
GOP investigators on both the House Oversight and the Ways and Means committees have released numerous emails showing Lerner’s liberal political leanings. They’ve accused her of bias in the workplace, including using her position to try to persuade IRS auditors to probe and reject the nonprofit application for Karl Rove’s influential Crossroads GPS.
Meanwhile, the FBI continues its investigation of Lerner’s alleged discriminatory acts against conservative nonprofits. Lerner’s lawyer maintains she has cooperated with the FBI’s investigation.