The Congressional investigation into whether the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups for persecution ended today on a controversial note after former official Lois Lerner refused to answer questions. The rough day for the investigation followed the release of emails corroborating political targeting of groups.
The emails, obtained by the House’s investigative committee, indicated that Lerner, in her official capacity, aimed to target political groups out of concern that the Citizens United ruling would lead to more suspicious or inappropriate tax filings. The ruling repealed much of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and allowed individuals and political groups to contribute more to political candidates and parties.
According to Politico, many of the emails involved investigating political corporate entities and tax exempt groups. One of the emails links Lerner’s work specifically to Crossroads GPS, a conservative group led by Karl Rove. In another, she lists different types of political organizations that needed to be checked for potential suspicious activity. In one bit of correspondence, Lerner argues that she felt pressure from above to target the groups. “They want the IRS to fix the problem… Everybody is screaming at us right now,” she said, according to the committee’s report. It is never specified who “they” are, and Lerner did not provide any new details in today’s hearing. Representatives of the IRS have defended Lerner as doing “what she was supposed to do” in targeting the groups for investigation.
The former IRS official did not cooperate with the committee today, pleading her Fifth Amendment rights so often that Chairman Issa simply adjourned the meeting. This was the second time that Lerner had appeared before the committee and actively obstructed the investigation by refusing to testify. “I have no expectation that Ms. Lerner will cooperate with this committee,” he announced as he closed the session. His decision was met with some dramatic resistance by Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, who claimed to have a “procedural” question but then proceeded to berate Rep. Issa. “Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a committee like this… we are better than that as a country,” he shouted, ignoring the fact that the meeting had, in fact, been officially adjourned. Rep. Cummings continued uninterrupted until Rep. Issa cut off his microphone.
Rep. Cummings has a long history of competition with Rep. Issa in that committee. As previously reported, Cummings had been enthusiastic long before these hearings about his position on the committee as an obstructionist against Rep. Issa’s leadership in investigations. Rep. Cummings’ position on Lerner’s refusal to cooperate with the committee notwithstanding, the committee must now vote on whether to hold Lerner in contempt and whether Lerner gets to invoke the Fifth Amendment given the breadth of information being requested of her that may not fall under the scope of incriminating legally.