Tax Law

House votes to hold former IRS official in contempt


The U.S. House of Representatives took two steps on Wednesday to show its disapproval of the way the Internal Revenue Service handled applications for tax-exempt status by groups with “tea party” and “patriot” in their names.

The House voted to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify in its probe of allegations that those groups were singled out for special scrutiny, report the New York Times and the Washington Post. Six Democrats voted along with Republicans to approve the contempt charge.

The House also passed a resolution asking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate IRS targeting of conservative groups.

Lerner oversaw the IRS division on tax-exempt organizations before her retirement last September. She has previously said she did nothing wrong, and asserted her Fifth Amendment right not to testify before the House committee. The controversy stemmed from comments Lerner made to the ABA Section of Taxation in May 2013 about flagging groups with “tea party” and “patriot” for extra scrutiny. Groups that are “primarily engaged” in political activity don’t qualify for tax-exempt status as social-welfare groups.

The contempt charge will be forwarded to the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., the Washington Post says. The next step would be referral to a grand jury for review. If Lerner were convicted, she could face up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000.

Lerner’s lawyer, William Taylor III, told the Times that the 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.”

Updated at 8:59 a.m. to state that Lerner took the Fifth.

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