Tea party groups have claimed that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) unfairly targeted tea partiers seeking non-profit status, but now, conservative congressmen have targeted the IRS, and former IRS official Lois Lerner is caught in the crossfire.
The House of Representatives voted 231 to 187, largely across party lines, on May 7 to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions on the IRS’s handling of tea party groups. According to some representatives, the measure is necessary in order to find out the truth of what happened within the IRS.
“The only route to the truth is through the House of Representatives,” said Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. “That's why this resolution is so important.”
Lerner was the IRS official in charge of the division that handled the groups’ tax-exempt status. Although some groups applied for tax exempt status as early as 2010, many tea party applications were still pending in May 2013, when the original scandal broke. At that point, Lerner apologized for the prolonged review, blaming IRS employees at an office in Cincinnati.
Tea party groups have claimed that Lerner’s personal politics played a part in prolonging the tax exempt applications. According to The New York Times, Lerner wrote in one email that the tea party matter was “very dangerous,” since tea party groups could likely challenge the matter in court if the IRS denied their tax exempt applications. Citing other newly uncovered emails, tea party groups say that Lerner may have been working with Department of Justice officials to coordinate prosecutions.
However, Lerner’s legal team says that the vote represents nothing more than a conservative political play ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. “Today's vote has nothing to do with the facts or the law. Its only purpose is to keep the baseless IRS 'conspiracy' alive through the midterm elections,” said William Taylor III, Lerner’s attorney.
For more on the U.S. Congress in legal news, check out these InsideCounsel stories: