Justice Department declines to prosecute Lois Lerner for contempt

The Justice Department is refusing to charge former IRS manager Lois Lerner with being in contempt of Congress, saying that Lerner never waived her Fifth Amendment rights to self-incrimination.

When Lerner testified the first time before Congress in 2013, she read a statement into the record proclaiming her innocence.  She then refused to answer questions from the committee, citing her Fifth Amendment privilege.

Former federal prosecutor Rep. Trey Gowdy pounced on her claim immediately:

"She just testified. She just waived her Fifth Amendment right to privilege," Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a former federal prosecutor, said, "You don't get to tell your side of the story and then not be subjected to cross-examination. That's not the way it works. She waived her right to Fifth Amendment privilege by issuing and opening statement. She ought to stand here and answer our questions."

This was the basis upon which Congress cited Lerner for contempt last April.  After a year of dithering, DoJ finally got around to issuing an opinion.

The Hill:

In a statement, the U.S. attorney’s office stressed that career prosecutors made the decision to not bring charges against Lerner and that the Constitution gives the former IRS official “an absolute defense” against prosecution.

Bill Taylor, Lerner’s lawyer, said he and his client were “gratified but not surprised by today’s news.”

“Anyone who takes a serious and impartial look at this issue would conclude that Ms. Lerner did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights. It is unfortunate that the majority party in the House put politics before a citizen’s constitutional rights,” Taylor said. “Ms. Lerner is pleased to have this matter resolved and looks forward to moving on with her life."

Still, Machen’s letter only addresses the contempt of Congress charge that Lerner received last year. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would conduct a criminal investigation into the IRS’s scrutiny of Tea Party groups shortly after the controversy broke in May 2013.

Emily Pierce, a DOJ spokeswoman, said the department will “complete our investigation as expeditiously as possible.”

“The Justice Department launched its IRS investigation without hesitation and immediately after public revelations of potential misconduct,” Pierce said. “Since that time, it has been conducted by career prosecutors and law enforcement agents with the utmost of integrity, and department officials have regularly characterized the investigation as a top priority.”

Congressional committees are also still looking into the matter. One of the panels, the House Ways and Means Committee, sent the Justice Department a criminal referral last year with potential charges that could add up to 11 years in jail.

Following Machen’s letter, Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, said the Obama administration had once more “tried to sweep the IRS targeting of taxpayers for their political beliefs under the rug.” 

Lerner's lawyer says she has been cooperating with the DoJ's investigation, so why not cooperate with a congressional committee?  "Lerner refused to answer questions from lawmakers, Taylor said, because they didn’t trust Republicans to run a fair investigation."

Imagine a Bush administration official using that argument when the Democrats were in charge on the Hill.

That "top priority" DoJ investigation into the IRS doesn't appear to be going anywhere.  Gee...who woulda thunk it?  And it's a real shocker that Lerner is getting a pass on her arrogant refusal to tell Congress what the hell happened. 

This is Obama's Washington, where it's great to have friends in high places.

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