Lois Lerner held in contempt of Congress, ramping up next phase of midterm election year political posturing
Lois Lerner, the former head of the Internal Revenue Service's exempt organizations division, is officially in contempt of Congress.
Essentially the same thing that's been going on for almost a year. Politics.
Two IRS votes: The 231 to 187 House vote on Lerner's contempt charge came just after 7 p.m. on May 7. The contempt citation now goes to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, where the next step would be referral to a grand jury for further review.
If legal action follows and Lerner is convicted, she could face up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $100,000.
A few minutes later on Wednesday evening, the House also approved a resolution asking U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS' targeting of conservative nonprofit groups.
No action expected: Don't look for the Department of Justice to do anything in connection with either House vote.
There's absolutely no expectation that Holder will appoint a special prosecutor. That's a time-consuming and costly move.
Plus, the DoJ still is conducting its own investigation into the matter of whether the IRS' handling of 501(c)(4) nonprofit status requests was politically motivated.
As for the Lerner contempt charge, the odds of Justice Department action are only minimally better. When a similar charge against AG Holder was passed by the House over the Fast and Furious gun-running operation, federal prosecutors did nothing.
GOP already has its victory: Official legal gridlock, however, is not a problem for Republicans who led the contempt charge.
They got what they wanted with the Lerner vote, which passed largely along party lines, underscoring the politicization of this IRS controversy.
And the GOP really doesn't want a quick resolution of the IRS' nonprofit status review process. The issue is too valuable as a political rallying point that energizes the base of right-wing voters they need to show up in November's Congressional elections.
Can they keep it alive for a few more months? You betcha!
Quick scandal history: The Lerner contempt and special IRS prosecutor votes came almost exactly a year after the scandal broke.
Just in case you've forgotten, questions about how the IRS handles applications by groups seeking 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status officially came to light in a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, report.
The May 14, 2013, document noted that the IRS had inappropriately targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups seeking the favorable tax status. It was later revealed progressive groups also got special attention.
But the first indication that the IRS had a problem came a few days earlier.
On May 10, 2013, Lerner was on a panel at the panel at the American Bar Association tax section's annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Following the session, Lerner took a question from the audience.
Lerner's troubles: The problem was that Lerner had planted the question, trying to get out ahead of the impending release of the TIGTA report.
The former IRS executive's response, however, set off a political firestorm. Press reports of her apology for the agency's inappropriate targeting of conservative political groups in the run-up to the 2012 election filled the airwaves, news pages and the Internet.
A political crusade was born and things quickly went downhill for Lerner.
She twice exercised her Fifth Amendment right in refusing to testify before Congressional committees, was placed on paid leave and ultimately retired from the IRS.
Now she's got the contempt charge hanging over her.
Investigation, not politics: I'm not saying that the IRS, and Lerner, didn't screw up. They did. Repeatedly and royally.
Everyone should face the consequences of their actions.
Neither am I saying that Congress should ignore how the IRS dealt with applications from organizations for a nonprofit status.
Under current IRS regulations if not the letter of the actual law, groups are allowed to conduct some political activities and still be deemed tax-exempt. This definitely is an area that needs a lot of attention, from Congress and us taxpayers.
But only fools or liars believe that all the Congressional inquiries, especially on the GOP-controlled House side, are primarily to get to the bottom of the botched 501(c)(4) application review process and other IRS missteps.
They are mainly to make political points. And that's a real shame for the IRS, Congress and all Americans.
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