The Justice Department is declining to bring charges against Lois Lerner, the former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official at the center of the Tea Party targeting controversy, bringing an end to a two-year-long investigation.
“We found no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt, or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution,” Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said in a letter to Congress on Friday.
Kadzik said the investigation found “substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment, and institutional inertia, leading to the belief by many tax-exempt applicants that the IRS targeted them based on their political viewpoints” but concluded that “poor management is not a crime.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who led an investigation into the IRS as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, blasted the Justice Department as giving Lerner a “free pass.”
"The Justice Department's decision to close the IRS targeting investigation without a single charge or prosecution is a low point of accountability in an Administration that is better known for punishing whistleblowers than the abuse and misconduct they expose,” Issa wrote in a statement.
A Treasury inspector general report in 2013 found that the IRS had subjected groups with “Tea Party” and “patriots” in their name to heightened scrutiny, often lengthening the approval process for their tax-exempt status applications.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats agreed that the IRS mishandled applications from the affected groups but clashed over whether it was politically motivated and whether top agency officials should be prosecuted.
Democrats said the DOJ’s decision not to bring charges against Lerner shows that Republicans blew the issue out of proportion.
“Over the past five years, Republicans in the House of Representatives have squandered literally tens of millions of dollars going down all kinds of investigative rabbit holes — IRS, Planned Parenthood, Benghazi — with absolutely no evidence of illegal activity,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
The IRS controversy escalated last year when Lerner, who was the director of the IRS’s Exempt Organization Unit at the time, said she lost an unknown number of emails due to a computer crash.
A government watchdog group also found that the IRS improperly destroyed backup tapes that contained as many as 24,000 of the official’s emails.
Several emails, however, did surface, showing Lerner engaging in partisan jabs that added to Republican suspicions of intentional targeting.
In one email, Lerner called Republican lawmakers who called on her to testify about the scandal “evil and dishonest” and said President Lincoln was America’s “worst president not our best” for not letting the South secede from the union.
While maintaining she is innocent of any wrongdoing, Lerner refused to testify before the House Oversight Committee, invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The House voted to hold her in contempt, but the Justice Department refused to bring the charge against her.
Lerner was placed on leave from the IRS soon after the targeting emerged and eventually retired.