The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), has recalled IRS honcho Lois Lerner to testify on the agency’s abuse of Tea Party and conservative groups. She has since retired from the IRS and is receiving a six-figure retirement income, making more money per year after leaving her government job in disgrace than most Americans make working full-time.
Last time America saw Lerner was last May, when she raised her hand and was sworn in to testify, then declared her innocence and took the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) pointed out at the time that Lerner is not allowed to declare innocence and then take the Fifth. The committee reserved the right to bring her back and compel her to testify.
Next week she will be back to testify before the committee, or at least, she is expected to be back because the committee has recalled her. She could fail to appear. Gowdy appeared on Fox this morning and outlined a couple of scenarios that may play out. Gowdy ruled out granting Lerner immunity from prosecution before knowing the outlines of what she knows and is willing to say, comparing that to “buying a used car over the phone.” Until the committee has some idea what Lerner will say, they will not grant her immunity. In one of Gowdy’s scenarios, Lerner testifies. He indicated that that is unlikely. In another, she takes the Fifth again, and the committee holds her in contempt of Congress because of her previous claim of innocence. She can be jailed if she continues to refuse to testify. She could also be found in contempt and jailed if she fails to show up to next week’s hearing.
Gowdy also outlined what could happen if she does take the Fifth again. Her attorney, he said, could call for a meeting with members of the committee to outline what Lerner will admit to, in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Gowdy indicated while the committee is not interested in granting her immunity at this point, once committee members have a better understanding of what Lerner is willing to say, immunity could be on the table. Lerner could then be expected to offer testimony that implicates others who were involved in the abuse scandal, either within the IRS or above it.
There is no doubt that crimes were committed by IRS officials, as I’ll explain on the next page.
Cincinnati unit manager for tax-exempt organizations Cindy Thomas, released the tax applications of nine conservative organizations to left-wing Pro Publica. The IRS systematically delayed conservative groups’ tax-exempt applications across the 2010 to 2012 pre-election timespan, while at the same time, Malik Obama’s Barack H. Obama Foundation’s application was fast-tracked and back-dated. Most left-wing groups saw their applications for tax-exempt status sail through the IRS process. Someone set up a regime to scrutinize conservative groups’ applications more closely than liberal groups. The FBI has slow-dragged its investigation, and still has not even interviewed many of those who believe the IRS abused them. Someone also needs to explain how some conservative leaders have been subjected to IRS audits and long-term assault by an alphabet soup of executive branch agencies during the period in which the IRS abused conservative tax-exempt groups. As the person who first leaked the IRS abuse, and as someone who has a history of using government power against conservatives, Lerner is in a position to know quite a bit how the abuse began and who was directing it, if she was not directing it herself.
Congress lacks the power to prosecute Lerner, but it can grant her immunity from prosecution if she provides credible and compelling evidence that points to others with knowledge of the scandal. It’s unlikely that Lois Lerner is the kingpin of the IRS abuse scandal. She probably lacked the power on her own within the IRS to launch the scrutiny of the abused groups, and she certainly lacked the power to move other executive branch agencies against conservatives. But as the IRS official who first disclosed it, and excused it as actions by “rogue” officers in Cincinnati, Lerner obviously knew a great deal about it — enough to know that it should be downplayed to minimize its political fallout. She lacked any power over the FBI’s failure to fully investigate, and she could not have appointed Obama campaign donor Barbara Bosserman to investigate the case. The Tatler has been told by a very reliable source that evidence exists pointing to White House involvement in the scandal. Issa’s committee surely has the same information. Lerner’s appearance next week presents an excellent opportunity to pursue it.