IRS suspends division chief after agency scandal

The IRS placed the head of its tax-exempt organizations division Lois Lerner on administrative leave, according to an IRS statement Thursday, after she refused to testify about a scandal at the tax agency.

Lerner had come under intense criticism in recent days for failing to alert Congress about the Internal Revenue Service inappropriately scrutinizing conservative groups that were applying for non-profit status.

She also infuriated lawmakers Wednesday when she invoked her constitutional right not to testify at a hearing on the matter, yet stressed to the House Oversight Committee that "I have not done anything wrong."

In a statement introducing Lerner's replacement, acting IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel did not mention Lerner by name but said her successor, Ken Corbin, is "an ideal choice to help the exempt organization's area through this difficult period."

National Review reported that Lerner emailed colleagues Thursday to say: "Due to the events of recent days, I am on administrative leave starting today. An announcement will be made shortly informing you who will be acting while I am on administrative leave."

Lerner is a career federal employee who took over in 2006 as chief of the exempt organizations division, whose agents targeted "Tea Party" and other conservative groups with burdensome scrutiny.

In written responses to questions by the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration, Lerner said she first learned about the abuse in June 2011.

She was interviewed by a Senate investigations subcommitee earlier this year, but lawmakers say she did not tell them what she knew about the wrongdoing that had been uncovered at the agency.

The subcommittee's top senators, Democrat Carl Levin and Republican John McCain, wrote Werfel on Thursday to urge him to immediately suspend Lerner.

"Given the serious failure by Ms. Lerner to disclose to this subcommittee key information on topics that the subcommittee was investigating, we have lost confidence in her ability to fulfill her duties," they wrote.

Keeping her in the job "would erode public trust and confidence in the IRS and its professional integrity."

Werfel is the incoming IRS chief, after President Barack Obama demanded the resignation of acting commissioner Steven Miller.

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