By Bernie Becker - 03/11/14 11:02 AM EDT
Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the agency’s targeting controversy, made several false or misleading statements to Congress about her role in scrutinizing Tea Party groups, according to a new report from congressional Republicans.
“She was keenly aware of acute political pressure to crack down on conservative-leaning organizations,” the report says.
“She created unprecedented roadblocks for Tea Party organizations, worked surreptitiously to advance new Obama administration regulations that curtail the activities of existing 501(c)(4) organizations — all the while attempting to maintain an appearance that her efforts did not appear, in her own words, ‘per se political.’ ”
Lerner’s attorney, Bill Taylor, told reporters last week that Issa was seeking to “vilify” his client, and that the committee’s investigation was not interested in fact-finding.
Taylor did say that Lerner had to take some of the blame for the delays that certain groups seeking tax-exempt status faced, but said the real issue was the unclear rules governing those organizations.
The report comes as Issa seeks to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress, after the committee ruled that Lerner had waived her Fifth Amendment rights.
Lerner, who headed an IRS division overseeing tax-exempt groups, has now declined to testify twice before the Oversight panel. Issa had said he would move on potential contempt charges as soon as this week. But a committee vote that quickly now seems unlikely, after Issa and the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), sparred during Lerner’s appearance at the committee last week.
Democrats have repeatedly said that almost 10 months worth of investigation have uncovered bureaucratic mistakes, but no sign of White House involvement or political motivation.
"While there is certainly evidence of mismanagement at the IRS, this partisan Republican staff report identifies absolutely no evidence to support the central Republican allegations in this investigation-that the White House directed this activity or that it was politically motivated," Cummings said in a statement.
"The Inspector General already concluded that Lois Lerner did not even know about the inappropriate criteria until 2011. Are Republicans now suggesting that she somehow went back in time to 2010 to orchestrate this entire conspiracy?"
According to the Oversight panel's report, Lerner used her home email to handle taxpayer information — a practice that top IRS officials have said isn’t allowed.
Lerner was also considering retirement in January 2013, the report found, less than four months before she became the first agency official to apologize for the scrutiny given to Tea Party groups. She eventually retired in September, after being on paid leave for around four months.
The committee says Lerner’s misleading statements include telling the panel in February 2012 that the criteria for evaluating applications had not changed — something Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration says had occurred some eight months earlier.
The report adds that Lerner and other agency officials had expressed concerns about the Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists who help finance conservative causes. Lerner also believed that Tea Party groups were “itching for a constitutional challenge” over their applications.
— This story was updated at 1:25 p.m.