For the second time in as many days, a House committee voted Thursday to hold former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner criminally accountable for refusing to testify on the political targeting scandal that engulfed the IRS last year.
The Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 21-12 along party lines to send a contempt resolution to the full House, where lawmakers will decide whether to ask the Justice Department to take criminal action against her.
The Oversight Committee, chaired by Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has led the public charge in investigating whether Lerner and other officials at the IRS specifically sought to challenge conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. But the Ways and Means Committee also voted Wednesday to refer a criminal investigation to the Justice Department and has been conducting a separate investigation.
“Our investigation has found that former IRS Exempt Organizations division Director Lois Lerner played a central role in the targeting scandal and then failed to meet her legal obligations to answer questions after she waived her right not to testify,” Issa said in a statement. “In demanding answers and holding a powerful government official accountable for her failure to meet her legal obligations, this Committee did its job.”
Issa’s “job” remarks allude to the job Attorney General Eric Holder must now choose to perform in investigating – or declining to investigate – Lerner.
In a concurrent narrative involving an Oversight investigation that has unfolded along predictable party allegiances, Issa accused ranking Committee Democrat Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) Wednesday of abetting the IRS in discriminating against at least one conservative nonprofit in 2012.
Issa claims that email records uncovered last week indicate Cummings sought to direct the IRS’ scrutiny toward True the Vote, a Texas-based conservative nonprofit, in 2012. Cummings allegedly attempted to obtain copies of training materials True the Vote used to train affiliates and volunteers. The Congressman eventually collaborated directly with Lerner’s office in order to follow through with that attempt, said Issa.
“The IRS and the Oversight Minority made numerous requests for virtually identical information from True the Vote, raising concerns that the IRS improperly shared protected taxpayer information with Rep. Cummings’ staff,” said the Issa-led panel in a statement.
According to a Wednesday report in the Washington Examiner, “Issa said Cummings and his office asked for more information in January 2013 about True the Vote, this time getting Lerner involved.”
At one point, an email revealed, Lerner asked her deputy, “Did we find anything?”
When the deputy said she had not received any new information, Lerner responded, “thanks – check tomorrow please.”
Issa said Cummings had previously denied asking the IRS about True the Vote.
At a February subcommittee hearing, when Issa was asked whether his office may have put True the Vote “on the radar screen” of the IRS, Cummings said the accusation was “absolutely incorrect and untrue.”
Whether the allegations reveal evil intent or not, Cummings, who is often pictured seated near Issa in photographed coverage of Oversight hearings, has been a front-row spectator to every aspect of the Committee’s investigation since the scandal was first made public. The relationship between Issa and Cummings has also deteriorated as the Committee’s disposition toward Lerner has grown more aggressive and prosecutorial. Cummings, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, insinuated Issa had racist motives for cutting off the Democrat’s microphone at the conclusion of a particularly unproductive Lerner hearing in early March.
Lerner has twice attempted to invoke her 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination, although she has maintained, through her attorney, that she has not broken any laws.
A separate investigation at Justice “remains a top priority,” a spokesman for the agency said Wednesday.
* The UPI contributed to this report.