IRS’s Lois Lerner Pleads the Fifth

lernerLois Lerner, director of the IRS tax-exempt organization division that targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny, put in a brief but self-serving appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday. “I have not done anything wrong,” she insisted in her opening statement. “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,” she added. After reading that statement, Lerner made it clear that was as far as she was willing to go. “I will not answer any questions or testify today,” she said. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa dismissed her and she left the building.

Just before Lerner got up to leave, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) raised an objection. “She waived her right to testify by issuing an opening statement,” said Gowdy. “She ought to stay and answer questions.” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the committee’s ranking Democrat, countered that assertion. “Unfortunately this is not a federal court and she does has a right,” he said. “And we have to adhere to that.” Issa ultimately agreed with Cummings, and excused Lerner “subject to recall,” adding that he might consider giving her “limited immunity” to testify.

Prior to the beginning of yesterday’s hearings, the Fox News division located in Cincinnati, the alleged epicenter of the scandal, revealed that the IRS’s claim that the scandal is limited to low-level employees “is falling apart.” They obtained an IRS directory that explains the agency’s chain of command, noting that each of the six Cincinnati agents involved — Mitchel Steele, Carly Young, Joseph Herr, Stephen Seok, Liz Hofacre and a woman identified only as Ms. Richards — has both a different manager and, further up the chain, a different territory manager. The purpose of the chain is to prevent rogue agents from acting on their own.

Fox further reveals that a tax-exempt application must be processed within 270 days, or it triggers a system flag, requiring individual agents to maintain monthly status updates on cases until they are resolved. Because more than 300 groups were targeted through the Cincinnati office alone, over a period of 18 months to three years, thousands of flags would have been triggered. According to the IRS directory, a single IRS employee in Cincinnati, Cindy Thomas, the Program Manager of the Tax Exempt Division, would have received all of the flags.

This is where the chain of command gets critical. Only four people are above Thomas: Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who was “fired” despite the reality he was retiring next month; Joseph Grant, Commissioner of Tax Exempt and Government Entities who has also retired; Lois Lerner, who has invoked her Fifth Amendment privileges; and Holly Paz, Director of Exempt Organizations who was interviewed by the Committee on Tuesday.

Perhaps it’s time to subpoena Cindy Thomas.

Next up at yesterday’s hearing was Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal S. Wolin, who insisted his department knew nothing about the targeting of conservative groups. He pushed the administration’s line that President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew have “taken decisive action” to address the issues raised in the report by Treasury Inspector General (IG) for Tax Administration J. Russell George. That would be the report that insists the IRS abuse began in March of 2010, a contention debunked by the Thomas More Society, which released a public announcement August 4, 2009 about their involvement with two pro-life groups targeted by the IRS.

The utter disingenuousness of Wolin’s contentions is underscored by another inconvenient reality. A May 14 letter signed by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp and Ranking Member Sander Levin, demanding records of any communications between the IRS and the Treasury department, as well as any between the White House and the IRS, has been ignored. Camp and Levin had given the IRS until May 21 to comply with that demand. They refused to do so, and have not responded to multiple phone and email inquiries made by

Back at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearings, both Democrats and Republicans were outraged by the revelation that the IRS was aware its employees were targeting right-wing groups as early as May 2012, but hid that information from Congress. Issa noted that Holly Paz testified to that effect on Tuesday, revealing that an internal investigation conducted by IRS officials ended on May 3. Thus, it was established that the agency was aware of the targeting a full year prior to the release of the IG’s report.

And far more to the point, it was aware six months before the 2012 presidential election.

George was asked if officials at either the Treasury Dept. or the White House directed IRS employees to target conservative groups. He said officials told him “there was no direction from the department itself to those in the determinations unit in Cincinnati, nor their affiliate office in Washington.”

Yet in a critical exchange, George revealed his investigation never probed White House involvement. “[I]n all honestly, we didn’t look at the White House. We didn’t question anyone as to whether or not they’d received any direction from the White House,” he said.

During his testimony, former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman offered up the kind of rationale that is becoming a recurring theme surrounding this story. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked Shulman if he took responsibility for what occurred in Cincinnati. “You know, I don’t take personal responsibility for there being a list with criteria put on it, but I do accept the fact that this did happen on my watch,” he responded. “So you don’t take responsibility, but you recognize the fact that it happened under your watch?” Speier repeated. “Look, I recognize that this happened on my watch and I’m very sorry that this happened while I was at the Internal Revenue Service,” replied Shulman.

What also happened on Shulman’s watch was pointed out by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), in conjunction with White House visitor logs. The logs revealed that Shulman visited the White House 118 times in 2010 and 2011, during the period when conservative groups were being singled out for greater scrutiny. In an explanation for those visits that will likely strike fear in many Americans, Shulman claims many of them involved determining what the IRS’s role would be in implementing the healthcare bill.

Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D-PA) attempted to provide cover for the IRS, asking George if the doubling of applications after 2010 might have led to the targeting. The answer is irrelevant: the IRS’s own data show no such thing occurred, despite Lois Lerner’s earlier assertion that it did. George was further pressed to explain the basis of the IRS’s targeting. He blamed Lerner. “My response at this stage would be a lack of oversight, a lack of follow-up on the part of Ms. Lerner and the people within her immediate chain of command,” George said.

Later he attempted to rationalize the IRS’s behavior, saying that all of the groups he reviewed in his audit eventually got tax-exempt status. Chairman Issa cut through the obfuscation, noting that “you can actually deny better by not denying, because if you deny, they have a right of appeal,” Issa explained. “If you just let them sit in limbo, they’re screwed. And some are still screwed today.”

Issa’s claim is right on. Many organizations are still awaiting an IRS response regarding their status. A Washington, D.C. law firm that represents some of these groups says that the IRS’s claim that the system was streamlined after 2010 is demonstrably false in light of a massive increase in the amount of information the agency required of the firm’s clients. Like Fox, the firm debunk the “low-level employee” excuse because two of its clients’ applications had been referred to a “special task force” in Washington, DC.

The organization True the Vote, which applied for tax-exempt status in 2010, is still waiting for approval. They have endured three years of delays, during which time they have dealt with four different IRS agents, been subjected to six FBI inquiries, and have submitted thousands of pages of documentation to the agency, all to no avail.

As the afternoon wore on, another Democrat attempted to rescue the IRS, albeit indirectly. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) used his time to denounce the “absurd decision” by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. He claimed it has brought so much money into the political system that it threatens the ability of Congress to do its job. This absurd notion picks up where former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) left off ten days ago, when she contended broader amounts of political activity — also known as freedom of speech — made it harder for the IRS to do its job. However, it is in fact left-wing groups that dominate the non-profit sector, long before Citizens United, while their highly politicized work is rarely interfered with.

Another key moment in the hearings occurred when Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) told George that Holly Paz was present during 36 of 41 interviews conducted during the IRS audit. George contended he was unaware of the total, noting that many of the IRS auditors who produced that information are based outside Washington. This lack of knowledge, coupled with the aforementioned omission of targeted pro-life groups, and the failure to question anyone about possible White House involvement in the scandal, calls the thoroughness of the IG’s investigation into question.

After the hearing, Issa hardened his position with regard to Lerner. “When I asked her her questions from the very beginning, I did so so she could assert her rights prior to any statement,” Issa told Politico. “She chose not to do so–so she waived.” Stan Brand, general counsel for the House of Representatives from 1976 to 1983 disagreed. “I don’t think a brief introductory preface to her formal invocation of the privilege is a waiver,” he said. But Brand introduced the possibility that Lerner’s previous appearances before Congress may constitute a waiver of her Fifth Amendment rights. “Bottom line,” he warned, “I think we will hear no more from Ms. Lerner” unless she is provided immunity.

Thus, Lerner remains in the eye of the storm, which may be precisely the way the Obama administration wants it. As PJ Media’s Brian Preston notes, “several lefty bloggers known to be very close to the Obama White House were in fact meeting in the White House” on Tuesday, after Lerner’s attorney had announced she would be taking the Fifth. Two of them were Journolist veterans Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, and Josh Marshal of Talking Points Memorandum (TPM). In previous columns, Klein contended the IRS scandal was “a mess. But it’s not a mess that implicates the White House, or even senior IRS leadership.” Marshal insisted the scandal was a way for Republicans to reconnect with their base, now that the “touch points” of immigration and gays are no longer as effective as they used to be.

Yesterday, within 30 minutes of each other, Klein released a piece contending “heads should roll at the IRS,” while Marshal insisted Lerner “has to go.” Preston notes the “synchronicity,” of getting “reliably friendly bloggers and columnists on board with a story that focuses attention away from the White House.”

It is more than that. It is also Rule Number 12 in Saul Alinksy’s “Rules for Radicals”: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy.”

As of now, Lois Lerner is the unsympathetic target of the IRS scandal. It behooves Darrell Issa to grant her some sort of immunity for the simplest of reasons: the American public deserves to know how deep the corruption goes within the most powerful agency of government they deal with — and how far it may extend beyond it.

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  • UCSPanther

    Face it Democrats: Obama is your Nixon and you will have to face that fact sooner or later…

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "Face it Democrats: Obama is your Nixon and you will have to face that fact sooner or later…"

      Just on the IRS, 0'Bama is worse: He targeted grass roots organizations, not party elites.

      Transformation indeed.

      • Spider

        He is also getting Americans killed

  • truebearing

    Once again, the Lizard Left will sacrifice its tail to save its head. Individuals mean nothing to the collective. They are expendable. Lois Lerner is about to learn just that.

    The problem that the Right will have with this IRS scandal is that it has a lot of moving parts and areas of plausible deniability. It needs to be distilled down to a point where the average American's short attention span won't be taxed. It needs to be translated into a vivid personal threat to every American, not just conservatives, and not allowed to be falsely characterized as simply a political squabble between the government and the Tea Party.

  • AdinaK

    Lerner, if anything, is guilty of aiding and abetting a regime gone wild, so she is an accessory to whichever indictments eventually come down. Firing her is surely not enough. She must be treated no differently than someone who willfully breaks the laws she swore to uphold as an IRS official.

    In any case, where was Lerner when terror-related non-profits received the IRS's green light? –

    As a lawyer she surely knows she eviscerated ALL due diligence, at the very least!

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel

    • PhillipGaley

      Lois Lerner has not invoked any 5th Am right against self-incrimination: Not myself, having a law degree, nor a 4-year degree, and even I know that, under that kind of a subpoena, you can't just say that, you're not going to answer any questions today—which Ms. Lerner did say.

      And even I know that, the right of self-protection against self-incrimination as ensconced in the 5th Am can be invoked ONLY under dire necessity of the likelihood of criminal culpability; but yet, there she announces that, she has done nothing wrong.

      In one case of some decades past, a businessman thought to hang his hat this: “My answer might incriminate me.”, and the US Supreme Court of course, denied he had invoked any right at all—a hypothetical does not engage that right.

      This is no deep cabalistic mystery; those Democrat lawyers know all of this, . . . and much more, . . . sending her in to that hearing, . . . and so unprepared, . . . unless, . . . everyone is going to pretend that, there is no one who knows and understands, . . . political Kabuki for the Am people, . . .

      But however that might be, a weighted die has been cast against her, . . . Obviously, the dear Ms. Lerner is to be shoved in front of a train, so to speak, . . . I guess, . . . there’s no honor among Democrats or thieves, . . . oh well, . . . that’s the bed she chose, . . . lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas, . . . and much worse, . . .

      • slider 96

        It's obvious any law degree you have , was bought and paid for on the internet .

    • slider 96

      You're no lawyer either Adina , you just know big words to throw around , which you think you know the meaning of . Just keep on kvetching though they suck it up here .

  • Mary Sue

    For some reason I'm getting flashbacks to an old Dave Chappelle Sketch:

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "Dave Chappelle"

      Love that guy.

    • Looking4Sanity

      I got a flashback of Rooster Cogburn and the Lady when Struther Martin observes, "A woman can no more keep her mouth shut than a yellow tailed catfish". Once you plead the Fifth, you clam up. She didn't.

      • Mary Sue

        yeah she pretty much self-revoked it.

      • 4_Constitution

        That's one of my favorite movies b/c John Wayne and Katerine Hepburn are two of my favorite actors.

  • κατεργάζομαι

    TOO BAD the OBAMA Administration refuses to embrace and support the First & Second Amendment rights with the same alacrity that they demand their Fifth Amendment rights!

  • pierce

    All I can say is "If she hasn't done anything wrong, then she has nothing to hide."
    So she has to be ashamed of whatever that something is.
    We the people are some what afraid of the IRS. They wield a mighty stick. Get in line, stay in line, and we will leave you alone.

    • slider 96

      If you're claiming to be 501 c [4] [6] you shouldn't be espousing any political views , the IRS is wrong if they're singling out conservative groups , and CONSERVATIVE GROUPS are wrong if they're espousing political views and then attempting 501c [4] or [6] status . .
      Oh Wait !! If they're doing that , then ………THEY'RE BREAKING THE LAW …….right ?

      • pagegl

        Kind of like is nonpartisan. Yeah, right… I guess it's okay for a leftist organization to get the tax status but not any Tea Party group. Hypocrisy in action…

  • zorro

    los stupidos americanos

    • ZAPATA! κατεργάζομαι

      Replying to zorro: All of Latin America, is saying "¡ Si! ¡ Hurra! para el americano estúpido!"
      (Hooray for the stupid Americans!)

      Rubio just thanked us for supporting his candidacy by turning his supporters into a piñata!

      Viva free Zapatas,…. free anchor babies, free education, food stamps…housing, free Obamacare….

      • slider 96

        That's all right teebagger numbskulls voted for Allen West . So too Rubio is YOUR HATCHLING .I agree his supporters are STUPIDOS . But then again here in Florida , teebaggers put a CEO in office as Governor [ Scott ] whose company was nailed for Medicare Fraud and who STOLE MILLIONS .
        You deserve what you get . We got rid of West , and we'll get rid of Scott next election , LOL…good luck getting rid of Rubio , you're stuck with him , he's your boy !
        Zorro's right , you teebaggers are stupid .

        • Mary Sue

          Have fun turning Florida into California, dummy.

        • Kevin Stowell

          What have Demmunists fixed? They had a technical supermajority for at least four months and for practical purposes much longer. Can we expect results soon?

  • Asher

    Lerner messed up in making the opening statement..She can still be held in contempt!

    • Looking4Sanity

      Someone forgot to tell her the most important part of the Fifth…after you invoke it, you have to shut up. She shafted herself.

  • slider 96

    Face it EVERY American has THE RIGHT to PLEAD THE FITH AMENDMENT , Gawdy should know this , and NO , you don't waive those rights . Funny how you "patriotic Constitution loving hypocrites " are so quick to abridge the rights guaranteed under the Constitution .
    Any lawyer worth his salt would advise Lerner to do the same . If she did know about it and was not in the position to report it or do anything about it ,and knows that responsibility falls on another , she should plead the fifth and let the investigation take its course . Republicans are screaming they want to see someone go to Jail which is fine , but here in America you must provide EVIDENCE and have a jury convict ….OR DID YOU TEEBAGGERS FORGET THAT ?

    • pierce

      Slider96, you are a f'ing idiot.

    • tagalog

      People waive their Fifth Amendment rights by making statements without any questions being asked all the time. That's why lawyers must tell their criminal clients so often. "don't talk about your crime." Also, they don't have a Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions made by Congress (or law enforcement) when they are not under custodial arrest or accused of a crime. Like all rights, people don't have to exercise them, and sometimes they think they possess such rights when they don't, actually.

      Fifth Amendment rights can be circumvented by giving the questionee immunity from prosecution. Congresspeople are talking about that today, but some want to hold Lerner's feet to the fire. She's inconsequential if there's any likelihood of Obama having been involved in this conspiracy, so I think giving her immunity is a good idea if she can shed light on the question of Obama knowing what was going on.

    • pagegl

      Read the Constitution, you might learn something.

    • Mary Sue

      says the person who CLEARLY doesn't understand what "pleading the fifth" EVEN MEANS.

      It does not mean what you think it means.

  • tagalog

    The penalty for refusing to answer questions put to you by a Congressional committee is a maximum of one year in a federal penitentiary for contempt of Congress. Some years ago, at least ten members of the Communist Party USA (among them Dalton Trumbo) got a year in a federal penitentiary for pleading the Fifth Amendment, thereby committing the crime of contempt of Congress when they refused to answer questions put to them by the House Committee on Unamerican Activities.

    I guess things are different today. Some folks might ask, "who doesn't have contempt of Congress?"

    Lerner claimed that the Fifth Amendment is intended to protect the innocent, but it is more effectively used to protect the guilty. The usual formulation for invoking the Fifth Amendemnt is "I refuse to answer the question on the ground that it might tend to incriminate me." InCRIMINATE, get it? Besides, no one asked her a single question, so her refusal to answer questions, before any are asked, on Fifth Amendment grounds, seems premature to me. But that's just me.

    If Citizens United was such a horrible case because it unleashed lots of corporate cash into the political process, what is going on that Democrats are doing so well under that rule? Maybe somebody should take a look at the relationship between Democrats and corporate big business.

    • slider 96

      That's right , and in America guilt or innocence must be FIRST established , not alleged or implied . What seems "premature " to you , is what any Lawyer in the country would say is elementary . Good thing you're not a lawyer huh ?

      • tagalog

        Actually, I'm a criminal defense lawyer.

        Guilt always starts out being implied. That's why we have the trial system, to put the implication of guilt to the test.

        Guilt or innocence, in the sense of a legal finding, is quite close to the end, not the beginning, of criminal law enforcement in any particular case. What begins the process is a suspicion of guilt, which is always alleged -with great care and specificity- at the outset of a prosecution; that's why courts and advocates are always sure to tell the finder of fact that "the fact that there is a criminal complaint against the defendant is of no significance to the issue of guilt or innocence – it is an allegation only."

        Just for your information.

        And to repeat, Ms. Lerner is not accused of a crime, and she was not under arrest when she invoked the Fifth Amendment, so she is OBVIOUSLY being premature, in this instance and under these circumstances a circumstantial indication of guilty knowledge. And by refusing to answer questions, she is clearly guilty RIGHT NOW of the crime of contempt of Congress. Based on what the courts were willing to sentence people to for refusing to answer questions from HUAC about belonging to a political party (the CPUSA), she ought to get a year in a federal pen.

  • slider 96

    Although this so-called “facts and circumstances” test is murky, most tax experts think it would be workable if the IRS had the resources to enforce it. In practice, political 501(c)(4) groups on both sides of the ideological divide flagrantly violate the anti-electioneering rule, and the IRS only rarely responds. Just before the 2010 election, for example, Crossroads GPS ran a television advertisement accusing Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak of voting to “gut Medicare” and “raise taxes over $5 billion.” During the same election season, the left-leaning Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund ran an ad claiming that Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck “refused to prosecute an admitted rapist” as district attorney. Political 501(c)(4) groups claim that such advertisements constitute social welfare work rather than campaigning because they don’t explicitly call on viewers to vote a certain way. That’s why so many recent ads have ended with statements like “Tell Ken Buck Colorado women deserve respect” rather than “vote against Ken Buck.

  • slider 96

    If you believe these groups are practicing " social welfare " then I got a bridge I wanna sell you in Brooklyn.
    Nobody's right if everyone 's wrong .

    • tagalog

      The issue is that progressive organizations that did just as much politicking as groups with "Tea Party" and "Patriot" in their names got a pass while the latter did not.

      Also, the law requires the IRS to make a decision in a limited time frame (I think it's 270 days, nine months), one that is much shorter than the time period that actually went by for the Tea Partiers and the Patriots.

      • slider 96

        I didn't say that what the IRS did was right , but I'd be willing to bet every ORG .they denied deserved it . And by the IRS being wrong , that does not make people with obvious political agendas worthy of 501c [4] or [6 ] designation .

        • tagalog

          How can you claim that every organization the IRS denied tax-exempt status to deserved it when the IRS officials won't answer any questions about whether they did or not?

          And how about the organizations -apparently only right-wing ones- that just got consigned to limbo without a yea or a nay on their applications for years?

  • aposematic

    Lerner ranted her arrogant hatred for the legal proceeding she was being forced in her evil mind to stoop and then referenced the 5th Amend. to couch her hatred of the law. That is not exercising her rights under the 5th.

    • tagalog

      Hear hear. Quite right.

  • Looking4Sanity

    Break out the Congressional thumbscrews!

  • John Spielman

    Lerner must learn that what she did was not just wrong but that she is also quilty of criminal intimidation and racketeering and should go to prison. Hard lesson but one she must Lern.