By Bernie Becker - 06/29/14 04:08 PM EDT
A top GOP investigator and former IRS official Lois Lerner’s lawyer squared off on Sunday, underscoring that the battle over the agency’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups isn’t going anywhere this election year.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) even accused the lawyer, Bill Taylor of Zuckerman Spaeder, on CNN’s “State of the Union” of having lied several times, and of giving his client shoddy legal advice. He insisted that Lerner had broken the law by not ensuring the safekeeping of official records.
Appearing on the same show just minutes later, Taylor, whose client is the central figure in the IRS controversy, shot back that Issa and other Republicans were demonizing Lerner solely to score political points.
The exchange was just the latest sign that the GOP investigation into the IRS, which had lagged in recent months as even Republicans had prioritized other matters, has gotten new life from the agency’s acknowledgement that a chunk of Lerner’s emails over a two-year span had gone missing. That controversy broke in May 2013, when Lerner acknowledged that the IRS had singled out Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Republicans have spent much of the last two weeks pounding the IRS over the agency’s statement that Lerner’s hard drive crashed in 2011, leaving them unable to recover all of her emails from 2009 to the middle of that year.
John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, has refused to apologize for the missing emails, which he chalks up to the agency’s outdated technology equipment. Koskinen has said that Lerner’s hard drive was also destroyed years ago, which he called standard operating procedure.
The GOP believes that the period between 2009 and 2011, when the Tea Party burst on to the political scene, is crucial to its investigation — especially since Lerner, the former chief of the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt groups, has twice declined to testify before Issa’s committee.
The House held Lerner in contempt of Congress in May, after Republicans ruled that she waived her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination by proclaiming her innocence in her first appearance before Issa and the Oversight Committee last year.
Issa made a nod toward those appearances in his interview Sunday, after he and Taylor had previously sparred over whether they had reached an agreement for Lerner to testify.
“Her attorney has said things and been not correct, or disingenuous, or outright lied a number of times,” Issa said on CNN. “Look, an attorney trying to get his client off the hook after flubbing the taking of the Fifth certainly will say and do a lot of things, but they're not held accountable.”
Taylor, in his separate appearance on CNN, suggested that Issa’s comments were nothing more than a ploy to fire up the conservative base before November’s elections, and underscored why Lerner had declined to testify before the Oversight Committee.
“I get that it's convenient to create suspicion,” Taylor said. “It's convenient to have a demon that they can create and point to.”
“There was no pretense that this would be a fair process,” Taylor added. “From the beginning, the Republican majority has screamed, without any evidence, about things that she did, and made it clear that the only purpose of having her there would be to vilify her.”
The lawyer also denied that Lerner had violated the Federal Records Act, saying that she had followed IRS procedures on printing out emails that were official records.
The head of the National Archives has chided the IRS for not reporting Lerner’s lost emails and said the agency didn’t follow the law on maintaining official documents, though officials at the Archives have also pointed out that there aren’t criminal penalties for violating the Federal Records Act.
More than 13 months after Lerner’s apology, Issa also shows no signs of letting up on the IRS investigation.
Republicans maintain that President Obama and other top Democrats — angered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 — pressured the IRS into targeting conservative organizations.
But on CNN on Sunday, Issa also declined to directly answer questions about whether there was a “smoking gun” linking the White House to the controversy.
He even said that GOP investigators haven’t really been concentrating on the White House’s role. That statement is sure to raise eyebrows among Democrats who point out that that the Oversight chairman has sought a wide range of emails between White House and IRS staffers.
Other top Republicans have also linked what happened at the IRS to the White House, and have accused the administration and Attorney General Eric Holder of downplaying the controversy. Democrats have shot back that, despite all the GOP’s efforts, there’s no evidence that anyone outside the IRS was involved in the scrutiny given to Tea Party groups.
“What we do is, we follow the facts,” Issa said.” As we get to the facts, we then follow additional facts. The facts show that William Taylor's client, Lois Lerner, is, in fact, pivotal to this unfairly treating conservative groups.”