GOP rips Lerner for talking to feds

House Republicans on Thursday slammed the former IRS official at the center of the agency’s targeting controversy for answering questions from the Justice Department after invoking the Fifth Amendment in a congressional hearing.

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Republicans on the Oversight Committee said that Lois Lerner’s decision to sit down with federal investigators made them wonder how seriously the Justice Department was taking the investigation into the IRS’s treatment of Tea Party groups.

“Think about it: Actually, the people who can put her in jail — she’ll talk to them,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told The Hill. “But she won’t talk to a bunch of Congress guys? She won’t give us the answers? You’ve got to be kidding me. Because she knows the [Justice] investigation’s a joke.”

The statements from Republicans came a day after Lerner again took the Fifth, after first invoking those rights against self-incrimination in May 2013.

But Lerner’s return to Capitol Hill has largely been overshadowed since then, after Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) adjourned Wednesday’s hearing and cut the microphone of the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.).

Democrats intensified their criticism of Issa on Thursday, as Republicans tried to bring the focus back to Lerner.

“She obviously isn’t afraid to talk about it,” said Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.). “I think she should.”

Lerner, who retired in September, was the IRS official who first apologized for the agency’s treatment of Tea Party groups. After almost 10 months of investigation, Republicans say she could be the key to understanding why and how the IRS gave improper scrutiny to conservative groups.

But Bill Taylor, Lerner’s lawyer, has said he doesn’t believe his client will ever answer House Oversight’s questions.

Taylor told reporters on Wednesday that he believed Republicans were only seeking to embarrass Lerner, not to uncover facts for their longstanding investigation into the IRS.

He added that Lerner’s interview with the Justice came “without conditions,” and noted that she would be risking jail time by lying to the federal investigators. Reports have suggested that the Justice Department does not intend to file criminal charges related to the IRS's treatment of groups seeking tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status.

“I have every confidence that they’re fair minded and they don’t have a political objective, and hadn’t made up their minds about what the facts were,” Taylor said.