(CNN) - The attorney for embattled former IRS official Lois Lerner said Sunday that Republicans are denigrating an innocent woman for purely political purposes.
In an exclusive interview with CNN's Candy Crowley, attorney William Taylor said it's "convenient" for the GOP to suggest that Lerner's computer crash, which destroyed documents sought by a House Committee, means something "nefarious" was going on.
"This is election-year politics," Taylor said on "State of the Union" in his first television appearance on the controversy.
"It's convenient to have a demon that they can create and point to."
An investigation that was initially focused on whether the IRS unfairly targeted certain political groups became more convoluted last week when the agency announced the destruction of Lerner's e-mails - lost in an apparent hard drive crash.
Taylor said Lerner walked into her office one day and her computer screen was blue. Her hard drive had crashed.
"The truth is this was one of those things that happened," he said. "At the time she did everything she could to retrieve it. She reported it right away. And that's all there is to it."
Lerner, who ran the division that carried out the IRS targeting, resigned last year after the Treasury Department's inspector general found that employees working under her used "inappropriate" criteria to scrutinize certain groups, particularly those with conservative political names.
"People who want to give money to elections and do so in a tax-free way have to submit themselves to the scrutiny of the IRS to be sure they are complying with the rules that limit political activity," Taylor said.
"If the IRS is not looking at political activity in the C4 applications, which is what this is, they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing. So it's like saying ‘They're examining us for political activity’ when that's the exact criteria they're submitting for their applications."
Since her resignation, Lerner has refused to testify at hearings, invoking her constitutional right not to do so – a move that stirred suspicion that she had something to hide.
Taylor said, however, the reason he advised his client to invoke her Fifth Amendment right was because “there was no pretense that this would be a fair process” in the investigation led by House Oversight chairman Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California.
Issa said Sunday, also in an exclusive interview to CNN, that Taylor "has said things that are not correct, or disingenuous or outright lied a number of times, it's been shown by e-mails."
"(An) attorney trying to get his client off the hook after flubbing and taking the fifth certainly will say and do a lot of things. But they're not held accountable," Issa said on "State of the Union."
Taylor wouldn’t respond specifically to Issa’s claim that he had lied, but again suggested Republicans are using his client has a political tool to gin up conservative enthusiasm ahead of the midterm elections.
Asked by Crowley if Lerner violated federal law requiring the agency to back up its communications, Taylor said his client “did exactly as she was required to do."
Another branch in the investigation, further inflaming Republican sentiment against Lerner, was the disclosure last week by Issa of e-mail exchanges showing that Lerner asked, while still on the job in 2012, whether the tax agency should investigate an issue involving Republican Sen. Charles Grassley.
The e-mails centered on an invitation from an unnamed group to Grassley to attend a seminar. What prompted Lerner's interest in December 2012 was whether travel expenses for Grassley's wife were included and whether that would violate income tax rules. However, it was not clear from the e-mails whether Lerner, who reached out to a co-worker, was inquiring about a potential audit of Grassley or whether she thought the IRS should look at the group. Her lawyer said she acted appropriately.
Taylor maintained his client’s innocence on all fronts, insisting that from the beginning “(Republicans’) only purpose to have her there is to vilify her.”
Lerner has received death threats against herself and her family. Taylor said she is not receiving protection.
“She has to go on living her life,” he said. “She's been made to be a villain in a way that's very, very unfair.”
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