House Oversight Committee lays groundwork for charging Lois Lerner

A 140 page report issued by the House Oversight and Government Reportm Committee, headed by Rep. Darrell Issa, takes Lois Lerner a step closer to a contempt of Congress charge. Because federal bureaucrats live privileged lives, her legal bills are being paid by you and me (unlike the targets of her efforts, who had to pay their own lawyers). And she probably expects the Eric Holder Department of Justice to lay off on her, not an unreasonable expectation. Nevertheless, she has to be a little worried. Eliana Johnson lays out why:

The report charges that Lerner, the former director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division, misled Congress on four occasions. In a February 2012 briefing with the Oversight Committee, the report notes, she denied that the criteria for evaluating applications for tax exemption had changed. In fact, according to an inspector general’s report released last May, Lerner ordered that the criteria be broadened in June 2011. According to a colleague, she was concerned that current criteria, which included terms such as “tea party” and “patriot,” were “too pejorative.”

In all, the report paints a broad picture of Lerner’s involvement in the IRS’s effort to rein in 501(c)(4) groups, calling her the “instigator” of the agency’s malfeasance and “the singularly most relevant official” in the scandal. The events took place against the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed unlimited amounts of money from nonprofit groups and labor unions to flow into the political process. E-mails cited throughout the report indicate that Citizens United caused a lot of angst for Lerner and her colleagues in the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division. She noted in public remarks that the agency was under pressure to “fix the problem” created by the decision.

According to the report, Lerner attempted to do so by implementing a system in which applications for tax exemption were inappropriately scrutinized and by jump-starting efforts to rewrite the rules by which 501(c)(4) social-welfare groups can qualify for tax exemption. Those rules, which were introduced in November, have been the subject of controversy as groups on both the left and the right have charged that they infringe on their First Amendment rights and unduly restrict their participation in the political process.

The committee charges that Lerner’s efforts were politically motivated and intended to aid Democrats. “She led efforts to scrutinize conservative groups while working to maintain a veneer of objective enforcement,” the report says. “Lerner believed the political participation of tax-exempt organizations harmed Democratic candidates, she believed something needed to be done, and she directed action from her unit at the IRS.”

Patrick Howley, at the Daily Caller, lays out the six reasons Lerner waived her self-incrimination immunity, with explanations for each point:

1. “Lerner Gave a Voluntary Statement at the May 22, 2013 Hearing”

2. “Lerner Authenticated a Document during the Hearing”

3. “Representative Gowdy’s Statement Regarding Lerner’s Waiver”

4. “Committee Business Meeting to Vote on Whether Lerner Waived Her Fifth Amendment Privilege”

5. “Lois Lerner Continues to Defy the Committee’s Subpoena”

6. Lerner’s private interview with the Department of Justice (DOJ) “weakens the credibility” of her Fifth Amendment claim

I have little doubt that Lerner is stonewalling in the expectation that she will be well taken care of. But if she caves under pressure (something that bullies are prone to doing), she may well be able to identify who made what promises (if any). As we learned in Watergate, the cover-up is worse than the crime.

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