In the continuing probe into what many consider the most serious of President Barack Obama's "phony scandals," -- the targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) -- the House Oversight Committee chairman stated on Thursday that his committee members will meet for a special business meeting on April 10 to consider bringing a contempt of Congress resolution against a former IRS director who has pleaded the Fifth Amendment on two separate occasions.
Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said that his committee will consider contempt of Congress charges against Lois Lerner, the IRS' former director of Exempt Organizations. During two separate hearings regarding allegations that the IRS targeted conservative groups, especially those with the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their names, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, as reported by the Examiner.
There were also allegations that the IRS illegally "shared" information about conservative groups with liberal-left organizations. Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code stipulates that it's a felony for an Internal Revenue Service official to disclose either “return information” or “taxpayer return information” to any individuals or organizations including government agencies, according to an Examiner news story.
When questioned about the accusations of improper -- even criminal -- misconduct by IRS agents on two separate occasions -- on May 22, 2013 and then on March 5, 2014 -- Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate herself. The hearings were titled, “Targeting Americans for their Political Beliefs."
“Documents and testimony point to Lois Lerner as a senior IRS official responsible for conduct that deprived Americans of their rights to free speech and equal protection under our laws,” said Issa in his statement on Thursday.
“Americans expect accountability and want Congress to do all it can to gather relevant evidence about what occurred and who was responsible so that this never happens again. Ms. Lerner’s involvement in wrongdoing and refusal to meet her legal obligations has left the Committee with no alternative but to consider a contempt finding," he added.
The last time an Obama administration member was held in contempt by the House, was in 2012 when Attorney General Eric Holder was cited for lying before congress.
According to allegations against Lerner, she managed the IRS division that targeted Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status for an unusual amount of scrutiny that wasn't given to leftist groups. There were accusations by leaders of conservative organizations that the IRS staff required an extraordinary amount of information about the groups and their leaders that appeared to be overlooked in the IRS' dealings with left-leaning or far-left organizations that were afforded tax exempt status.
"Ms. Lerner presided over the IRS division where targeting and improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups took place. She, herself, directed unprecedented scrutiny of Tea Party applicants and worked on new restrictive rules for non-profits after President Obama and other prominent Democrats expressed outrage at the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision," noted the Oversight Committee.
The GOP lawmakers on the committee have pointed out that Lerner is the only IRS witness called by the committee who refuses to testify in the IRS targeting probe, in spite of her attorney informing Congress that she intends to testify. However, that offer was quashed by Lerner.
In the committee's March 11, 2014, report on Lerner's involvement in targeting tax-exempt groups, the report's writers depended on emails, documents and the testimony of other witnesses to show a pattern of conduct meant to mislead or stonewall investigators, according to the GOP lawmakers involved in the probe.
"The Oversight Committee continues to conduct a broad investigation of IRS targeting abuses beyond Ms. Lerner’s personal role," said Rep. Issa