April 9th, 2014
04:30 PM ET
4 years ago

Republicans on key House committee ask for former IRS official to be prosecuted

Washington (CNN) –– House Republicans took two significant swings at former IRS official Lois Lerner on Wednesday, voting to refer her to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution and releasing previously confidential documents related to her role in the tax agency’s targeting of conservative groups.

Those documents indicate she paid specific attention to the Karl Rove-founded group Crossroads GPS and at one point mentioned or joked about taking a job with the pro-Obama group Organizing for America.

“This is so important that I think the public has a right to know,” House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp told reporters after the committee’s 23-14 vote. “We have a right to oversee the IRS and hold them accountable.”

Lerner ran the IRS office that determined whether organizations could get tax-exempt status. She stepped down last year after an inspector general’s report found the division used “inappropriate” criteria in separating out applications, including the phrase “tea party.” Democrats have pointed out that the term “progressive” was also used in some BOLO or “be on the lookout” notices inside the agency.

Republicans see Lerner as central in their investigation, especially on the question of whether the White House had a role in the targeting, and have long pushed for more information and documents to be made public about her.

They managed to do that themselves on Wednesday by using a rarely invoked piece of tax law and Congressional power.

Under the tax code, the Ways and Means chairman is one of only three Congressional officials who can access confidential taxpayer information. In that role, Camp has seen confidential files in the case which contain specific information about taxpayer groups. Camp says those files raise more suspicions against Lerner and wanted them to be released. The law allows that if the committee reports the information to the full House of Representatives.

To set up that move, the Ways and Means Committee planned to meet behind closed doors Wednesday. But tension rose before the executive session began, when the top Democrat on the committee, Sander Levin of Michigan, opposed the closed session in a loud voice.

“Chill out,” Camp responded.

“I am very chilled out,” Levin retorted.

Two hours later, staff unlocked the doors and the committee voted along party lines to send the Justice Department a letter of prosecution referral. The document alleges that Lerner misled investigators, put confidential taxpayer information at risk and used her power to improperly block conservative groups.

The letter itself is largely symbolic. The committee cannot force action by DOJ and the agency indicated the letter does not change the status of Lerner’s case.

“As the Department has repeatedly confirmed, there is already an active, ongoing investigation into the IRS’s handling of applications by tax-exempt organizations,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce. “It remains a high priority of the Department. We will review the letter once we receive it and take it under consideration.”
Regardless of the investigation, the committee by voting to send the missive officially reported the information in the letter to the full House of Representatives and allowed staff to then release 80 pages of related but previously confidential information.

Those documents include discussion by Lerner and others of how the agency should handle Crossroads GPS, the organization founded by Republican political consultant Karl Rove.

“The organization at issue is Crossroads GPS, which is on the top of the list of c4 spenders in the last two elections.” Lerner wrote in a January 2013 e-mail the committee released Wednesday. “C4” is a reference to the section of the tax code which makes community and civic organizations tax exempt.

Another page in the document packet shows that Lerner was considering the status of Organizing for Action, or OFA, an outgrowth of President Obama’s Organizing for America.

“Has (the application for) this org actually come in?” Lerner wrote in January 2013, responding to a news article about the organization. “We need to be careful to make sure we are comfortable.”

The released e-mails don’t give context on what Lerner meant by “comfortable,” but do indicate she was warm to the organization.

After a staffer mentioned that OFA will have a DC office, Lerner e-mailed back, “Oh-maybe I can get the DC office job!” The staffer then forwarded Lerner’s words to a third colleague at the IRS asking, “Retirement talk?”

Lerner’s attorney did not respond to specific documents or details released Wednesday but strongly criticized the vote and Republican move overall.

“This is just another attempt by Republicans to vilify Ms. Lerner for political gain,” William Taylor wrote in a statement. “Ms. Lerner has done nothing wrong.”

Democrats on the committee also criticized Republicans, saying that the committee letter to the Justice Department was politically motivated to support a key conservative group.

“I think this is the Karl Rove letter,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Democrat of Texas.

Levin’s office stressed that the last time the committee disclosed confidential information was four decades ago, when it released a report about then President Richard Nixon’s taxes.

“This is unprecedented since 1974.” Levin said.

Camp did not respond directly when asked if the vote was political theater but said that the IRS targeting was itself unprecedented.

The committee’s vote comes one day before Republicans on the House Oversight Committee plan a vote to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify. Lerner has repeatedly asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa of California believes she waived that right when she read a statement to the committee.

CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn and Justice Reporter Evan Perez contributed to this story

Filed under: House Republicans • IRS • Sander Levin
soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    How about going after all the tax cheats? Collect the money they owe from their offshore accounts? Audit folks like Mittens who wrote off $77K for their "therapy horse"?

    In other words, how about you repub trolls on the House Ways and Means actually do something FOR the American people for a change instead of wasting millions of dollars?

    April 9, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  2. Silence DoGood

    Instead of actual plans and suggestions, are the GOP – TeaLaban folks really just going to cycle through the conspiracy theories. Are people really fooled by this?

    April 9, 2014 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA - Take Back the House

    The committee cannot force action by DOJ
    End of story. They want to stretch this witch hunt out as far as possible. Forget that Obamacare is WORKING and that one of their colleagues showed his FAMILY VALUES in the past week. No! They want to continue on this fake IRS scandal that targeted conservatives and PROGRESSIVES.

    April 9, 2014 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  4. Bill

    Poor hapless GOP with nothing better to do. Nickels worth of free advice – let it go – most people (except Sean Hannity and Issa) are tired of hearing about it and it is not scoring you any political points. In fact, it is harming your already shredded image.

    April 9, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  5. basedonfact

    The headline is wrong. They asked for Lois Lerner to be PERSECUTED

    April 9, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  6. sammy750

    The charges that should be before the law makers, is the treason the Bush and Cheney created with the 2 wars. and LIES.

    April 9, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  7. freedom

    The source of all the IRS, NSA and Benghazi catastrophes and criminal acts is the President. And Hilary took a huge part in them as well.

    April 9, 2014 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  8. Rusty Krus

    Vote these GOP turds out of office in November and move beyond this nonsense!

    April 9, 2014 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    LOL. McCarthyism at its best. Crossroads was scrutinized because it spent the most. Period. Think about that for a second. The IRS was doing its job. The group that collected the most money and spent the most money...all while being tax exempt for all of it...went around the country creating political advertisements, which is supposed to be against the rules for tax exempt 501(c)(4) status. Sure, they thinly veil the ads as "social welfare" "issue ads," but that shouldn't be he end of the story. These things raise red flags for anyone with an ounce of brain matter in their head. They specifically targeted particular districts, were about specific political issues important to the elections in those districts, mentioning specific candidates in those districts, etc. Characterizing this crap...done by ANYONE...as "not political" and therefore not a violation of the tax exempt rules is NONSENSE. Complete nonsense. This witchhunt serves two purposes: (a) the obvious witchhunt purpose and (b) distracting a large portion of the country from the REAL issue, which is that the 501(c)(4) laws and the long-standing public policies underlying them aren't really being enforced or respected if this kind of blatantly political behavior is allowed to take place while these organizations receive a tax exemption.

    And hey, the ancillary cherry on top? It's a mid-term year. The GOPers/Teatrolls on the House Ways and Means Committee weren't really sending a letter to DOJ demanding an investigation. They know DOJ is already knee deep in an investigation and that DOJ already has all this info. No no...what they were REALLY doing is manufacturing a fundraising story for Crossroads to put in their next email soliciting donations and setting up the screaming about DOJ's "refusal to prosecute her after receiving the letter" and "ermahgerd!!!! cover up!!!!!" on Faux News, Red State, Breitbart, etc., which is incoming no later than Friday.

    April 9, 2014 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    Long, long, overdue. Special prosecutor justified.

    April 9, 2014 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  11. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Why isn't it ever mentioned that Lois Lerner is a Republikkkan put in that position by W?

    April 9, 2014 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  12. Gurgyl

    -did great job targeting Republican thugs. Dig cayman island money.

    April 9, 2014 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  13. david saint

    while they are at it, how about disclosing the other agents testimony..you know, the ones the GOP and Issa are hiding from us that dont back their narrative.

    April 9, 2014 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  14. Sniffit

    "The source of all the IRS, NSA and Benghazi catastrophes and criminal acts is the President. And Hilary took a huge part in them as well."

    And there we have it folks: ^This is what happens when you huff Glade from a plastic CVS bag all day while watching Faux News.

    There's not a single shred of evidence, despite all this witch-hunting and the millions the GOP has spent on it, to support your statement. Seek treatment.

    April 9, 2014 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  15. ChrisM

    God those republicans are soooooo freaking ignorant, Dont you think the majority of Americans can see right thru your BS, bye bye repubs.

    April 9, 2014 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  16. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Oh Sniffitt.... You have such a way with words.....Thanks for the laugh!!!

    April 9, 2014 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  17. Don't blame me, I'm Obama!

    If the IRS targeted only liberal groups, to help a republican get reelecyed President, would it make any difference or just a witch hunt? Libs are such hypocritical hacks. U ignoramus still want Bush/Cheney prosecuted to protecting you! Laughable libs. Nothing to see here, keep the social justice agenda rollin...

    April 9, 2014 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  18. Silence DoGood

    @Rick McDaniel
    Long, long, overdue. Special prosecutor justified.
    And if that doesn't turn up anything like the desired mythology? What then?
    I suppose we will need the Real Special Special prosecutor.
    And if that doesn't turn up anything like the desired mythology? What then?
    I suppose we will need the Grand Super Extra Special Special prosecutor.
    And being good little conservatives, you can tell us how we are going to pay for it... Oh MY taxes, huh?

    April 9, 2014 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  19. Silence DoGood

    The source of all the IRS, NSA and Benghazi catastrophes and criminal acts is the President. And Hilary took a huge part in them as well.
    And since we are operating in fact free fantasy land, I bet Obama and Hillary did all this from Dr.Evil's secret hide-away in Area 51. With Big Foot. And Flying Monkeys.

    April 9, 2014 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  20. DH

    The GOP has no idea how much they are going to lose by for the next 30 elections. They are a world wide embarrassment.

    April 9, 2014 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  21. Smitty

    Once again an Obumbles btown noser is a criminal, you just cant make this stuff up. Pull her pension and send her to prison.

    April 9, 2014 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  22. Vicki

    Lois Lerner will not be prosecuted and she will keep her head high. I am sure she will be able to tell her story in a book that will make a lot of money about the corruption of the republicans in the House and how they have done nothing of worth while making fools of themselves.

    April 9, 2014 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  23. ProudDem

    I've asked this before and I'll ask it again....the "targeting" was asking some groups who were applying to be tax exempt on the millions of dollars they were spending on elections a few more questions before APPROVING them....ALL of them...the only one rejected was a Democratic group. We already have sworn testimony before the committee, by the manager who ordered them screened, that this was not directed from the White House. Where is the scandal exactly? Why have we now spent millions of dollars on investigations over this?

    April 9, 2014 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  24. Marie MD

    Wasn't Cummings trying to ask more questions when the car thief/arsonist cut off his mike?
    This issa needs to be impeached and thrown out of congress.

    April 9, 2014 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  25. logic rules

    The tea party claims to be non partisan so they dont have to pay taxes...they should be targeted!

    April 9, 2014 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
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