IRS's Lerner placed on administrative leave after refusing to testify

IRS's Lerner placed on administrative leave after refusing to testify

Lois Lerner, the IRS staffer who is under fire for her role in the agency’s targeting of conservative groups, has been placed on administrative leave, according to congressional aides.

She will still be paid while on leave, a congressional aide said, as required under civil service rules.

Lerner, who heads an IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, first disclosed the extra scrutiny the agency gave to Tea Party groups almost two weeks ago when answering a planted question at a Washington legal conference.

Since then, lawmakers from across the political spectrum have said that they believe Lerner misled them and have called for her dismissal.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP can beat Democrats after impeachment — but it needs to do this one thing Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report Senate begins preparations for Trump trial MORE (Iowa), a senior Republican on the Finance Committee, said in a Thursday statement that new acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel had asked Lerner to resign — and that Lerner was only placed on leave after she declined that request. Aides on Capitol Hill confirmed that Lerner had refused to resign.

In her first public appearance since the disclosure, Lerner on Wednesday invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination at a House Oversight hearing.

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The IRS announced in an internal memo circulated to the media that Ken Corbin will be taking over as the acting director of the tax-exempt organizations division. Corbin, a 25-year veteran at the IRS, has been deputy director in a division that processed millions of tax returns a year.

Lerner’s move to administrative leave comes after President Obama pushed out acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller over his role in the targeting. Werfel, formerly a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget, took over as acting commissioner on Wednesday.

The IRS also announced after the controversy broke that Joseph Grant, Lerner’s boss at the agency, will retire in early June.

Lerner will likely have to make her way back to Capitol Hill in the coming weeks, after House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) concluded that she waved her rights against self-incrimination by defending herself in an opening statement at Wednesday's hearing.

Sens. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinThe Trumpification of the federal courts Global health is the last bastion of bipartisan foreign policy Can the United States Senate rise to the occasion? Probably not MORE (D-Mich.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMartha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Meghan McCain blasts NY Times: 'Everyone already knows how much you despise' conservative women GOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials MORE (R-Ariz.) on Thursday became the latest prominent lawmakers to call for Lerner to be removed, in a letter to Werfel made public shortly before news of Lerner’s administrative leave broke.

Reps. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), Joe Crowley (D-N.Y) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) have also called for Lerner to be pushed out. 

"In naming Ken Corbin as acting director to replace Lois Lerner, the administration has taken a strong step to address serious mistakes made by the IRS Exempt Organization Division," Levin said in a statement. "This and further corrective action are vital in restoring the confidence of the American people."

According to a Treasury audit, Lerner found out in June 2011 that IRS staffers were giving extra scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status by searching for organizations with names like “Tea Party” and “patriots.”

Lerner immediately ordered that the criteria targeting conservative groups be changed, but staffers in a Cincinnati office eventually once again implemented more political screening criteria, according to the audit.

“I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee,” Lerner told House Oversight on Wednesday.

“Because I'm asserting my right not to testify, I know that some people will assume that I've done something wrong. I have not.”

The audit, from Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, also found that some groups waited months, even years, for their tax-exempt applications to be approved.

National Review first reported that Lerner was being placed on administrative leave.

The publication also reported late Thursday that letters suggest Lerner was directly involved in the agency’s targeting of conservative groups more than nine months after she first learned of the activity.

— This story was updated at 7:34 p.m.