Sens. McCain, Levin demand Lerner be ousted from IRS job

A bipartisan pair of senators on Thursday demanded the new head of the Internal Revenue Service suspend Lois Lerner, the IRS employee at the center of the Tea Party targeting scandal, arguing she withheld information from their investigation into agency practices.

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Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) wrote to acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel, urging him to immediately remove Lerner from her post as director of the exempt organizations division of the IRS.

The pair argued that Lerner had failed to disclose key information about the improper targeting when their staff interviewed her as part of an investigation into the tax treatment of 501(c )4 groups. Allowing her to continue at the agency would "erode public trust," they wrote. 

"We believe that the immediate removal of Ms. Lerner from office would be a vital step in helping to restore public trust in the agency," they wrote.

The pair, who lead the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said their staff interviewed Lerner and seven other IRS employees for six hours on April 30, about how the IRS is determining which groups applying for tax exempt status merit review. 

During that time, Lerner failed to mention the controversy swirling at the agency over the improper identification of groups for review based on Tea Party affiliations, nor the impending report from the Treasury Inspector General exploring the practice. 

She also did not mention that she was aware of the matter as early as June 2011, and had personally reviewed the questionable criteria, the lawmakers added.

Lerner has faced mounting scrutiny from lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol, as members grumble that she had failed to inform them of the improper targeting when she previously appeared before Congress.

On Wednesday, Lerner refused to answer questions when called to testify before the House Oversight Committee on the scandal, citing her Fifth Amendment rights. 

But she also delivered an opening statement declaring herself innocent of wrongdoing. Republicans argue she effectively waived her right not to answer questions and can be compelled to testify. 

Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Thursday he determined she did waive those rights, and was looking into bringing her back in to answer questions.

Levin and McCain have joined a growing chorus in Washington calling for Lerner's ouster. Among other members calling for her to step down is Carl's brother, Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), who is the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee.