The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), is currently considering whether to hold Lois Lerner, the former director of the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in contempt of Congress. Watch the committee's proceedings here.
UPDATE (1:00pm ET): The committee has voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress. From the AP:
A House Committee has voted to hold a former Internal Revenue Service official in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions at a pair of hearings.
Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee voted along party lines after a rare closed-door meeting to refer Lerner to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for criminal prosecution. In the criminal referral letter, Rep. David Camp (R-Mich.) outlines three ways Lerner may have broken the law:
1) By using her position to "improperly influence agency action against only conservative organizations."
2) Impeding an official investigation by giving "misleading statements" when responding to questions from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
3) Risking exposing and possibly actually exposing confidential taxpayer information by using her personal email address to conduct official business.
House Republicans have claimed that Lerner urged for Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit founded by Karl Rove, to be denied tax-exempt status. Lerner's attorney said that the move was "just another attempt by Republicans to vilify Ms. Lerner for political gain"
In May 2013, the TIGTA released an audit report claiming the following:
Early in Calendar Year 2010, the IRS began using inappropriate criteria to identify organizations applying for tax-exempt status to review for indications of significant political campaign intervention.
The report highlighted the criteria used by the Determination Unit, which examines applications for tax-exempt status at the IRS:
The Determinations Unit developed and used inappropriate criteria to identify applications from organizations with the words Tea Party in their names. These applications (hereafter referred to as potential political cases) were forwarded to a team of specialists for review.
The report goes on to say that, by July 2010, Determinations Unit management "had requested its specialists to be on the lookout for Tea Party applications." After the report was published, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform began an investigation.
On May 22, Lerner pleaded the Fifth at a Congressional hearing on the scandal after reading out a statement in which she claimed that she had done nothing wrong. Lerner exercised her Fifth Amendment right again last month at another House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing.
Issa recently accused ranking member of the committee Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) of colluding with the IRS. From National Review Online:
The war between Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa and the committee's ranking member, Elijah Cummings, rages on.
Issa on Wednesday accused the Maryland Democrat of colluding with the Internal Revenue Service in its targeting of the conservative nonprofit group True the Vote, whose founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, said she received multiple letters from Cummings in 2012 and personal visits from the IRS and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Explosives. Engelbrecht's True the Vote is one of the many conservative groups that claims to have been improperly targeted by the IRS while it scrutinized the applications of tea-party groups.
In a letter signed by his five subcommittee chairmen, Issa raised the possibility that Cummings coordinated with the IRS, "surreptitiously" contacting the agency to request information about True the Vote.
Issa and Cummings clashed last month after Lerner pleaded the Fifth. From CBS news:
At the first part of the hearing last May, Lerner delivered an opening statement declaring she had done nothing wrong, and then invoked her Fifth Amendment right and refused to answer any more questions. Republicans, however, concluded she did and have recalled her to answer questions about why Lerner gave heightened scrutiny to conservative groups with the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their names when reviewing applications for tax-exempt status.
The move did not sit well with Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who demanded a chance to speak as Issa brought the hearing to close after repeated attempts to question Lerner, with no avail.
"Mr. Chairman you cannot run a committee like this. You just cannot do this. We're better than that as a country," Cummings said, his voice rising as Issa stood up to leave and the members' microphones were cut off. "There is absolutely something wrong with that and that is absolutely un-American!
Earlier today Reason's J.D. Tuccille wrote about the Office of Special Counsel's recent press release, which reveals that whole IRS offices are backing President Obama. Some IRS employees may be disciplined after advising taxpayers to vote for Obama:
We already know that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has a long history of wielding its awesome clout against political opponents of sitting presidents, powerful members of Congress, and the tax collectors themselves, but who are IRS employees for? Well, President Obama seems to tickle their fancy. According to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the Hatch Act limiting political activity by federal employees, IRS employees are "alleged to have engaged in partisan political activity on duty and in the federal workplace."
Under federal law, IRS employees, like most federal workers, are considered "less restricted employees" who still must mind their actions lest they be be seen as using the taxpayers' money and resources to influence who gets to rule over those taxpayers. According to the list of no-nos, such federal workers "May not engage in political activity—i.e., activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group— while the employee is on duty, in any federal room or building, while wearing a uniform or official insignia, or using any federally owned or leased vehicle."
Reason on the IRS
A. Barton Hinkle on how new IRS rules will restrict free speech.
Matt Welch on how the IRS can share your bank information with security agencies.
Eric Boehm on IRS employees not following their own rules.
Gene Healy on why the scandals at the NSA and the IRS are equally alarming.
More from Reason on the IRS here.