Lerner’s Retreat: IRS Chief Who Pleaded The 5th Retires As Tea Party Scandal Closes In

former Director of Exempt Organizations

The former Internal Revenue Service official who attempted to testify on her own behalf before invoking her 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination resigned from her position Monday, even as a review board prepared to recommend that she be fired for her alleged role in wielding the tax agency’s power to illegally discriminate against conservative nonprofit groups.

Lois Lerner, the former director of the IRS Exempt Organizations division, had been on administrative leave since admitting in May that the IRS had bogged down conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election. She is expected to receive a full pension after retiring from her $177,000-per-year post.

Multiple news outlets reported that an IRS review board was posed to recommend that Lerner be fired for neglect of duty. Lerner, who allegedly had been made aware of the imminent embarrassment, avoided all that simply by quitting.

Congressional Republicans serving on various investigative panels said the resignation doesn’t affect Lerner’s susceptibility to a current subpoena by the House Oversight Committee, which doesn’t expire until the 113th Congress adjourns.

“We still don’t know why Lois Lerner, as a senior IRS official, had such a personal interest in directing scrutiny and why she denied improper conduct to Congress,” said Congressman Darrell E. Issa (R-Calif.) who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Her departure does not answer these questions or diminish the committee’s interest in hearing her testimony.”

The only testimony the committee has heard from Lerner thus far came shortly after the Tea Party scandal broke in late May, when Lerner infamously attempted to sway Congressional investigators with a brief self-acquittal before clamming up.

“I have done nothing wrong,” she had said at a committee hearing on May 22. “I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations and I have not provided false information to this or any other committee.” Lerner then said she wished to invoke the 5th Amendment, a recourse that had outraged Republican committee members who said she waived her claim against self-incrimination by offering testimony, however brief.

The IRS review panel that planned to recommend Lerner’s firing did not find her controversial actions to be politically motivated, a claim that conservatives who’ve followed the case have disputed. Internal emails released by The Wall Street Journal earlier this month reveal Lerner’s public claim that “rogue” IRS employees had perpetrated the Tea Party scandal doesn’t gibe with Lerner’s in-house communication, in which she described Tea Party groups as “dangerous.” Lerner’s own words, the story states, “raise doubts about IRS claims that the targeting wasn’t politically motivated.”

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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