The next shoe has dropped on the unfolding IRS scandal. Much of the attention has been directed at the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s recommendation that former Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations division Lois Lerner be held in contempt of Congress. The more significant news is that the House Ways and Means Committee has requested Attorney General Eric Holder to consider criminal charges against her:
After a two-hour meeting behind closed doors, the House Ways and Means Committee voted along partisan lines on Wednesday to officially urge Attorney General Eric Holder to consider criminal charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner.
The vote was based on evidence the committee uncovered while investigating the undue scrutiny that the IRS placed on conservative and liberal groups that filed for tax-exempt status during the 2012 elections. After the scandal broke last year, multiple congressional committees opened investigations into the matter and held several hearings to get to the bottom of it. Unlike other House committees, the Ways and Means committee had access to confidential taxpayer information that shed more light on the issue.
In the criminal referral letter it will send to Holder, the committee lays out three specific ways Lerner may have violated the law. Based on Lerner’s communications and actions, the committee charges that Lerner improperly used her position to influence action against conservative groups like Crossroads GPS while showing leniency toward similar liberal groups like Priorities USA.
The committee also charges that, according to her communications, Lerner knowingly gave misleading statements to the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the internal IRS watchdog, when TIGTA was investigating the controversy. Lastly, the committee says in its letter to Holder that Lerner used her personal email address to conduct official business, putting at risk confidential taxpayer information.
I think the Oversight and Reform Committee has erred in its recommendation that Ms. Lerner be held in contempt. It draws too much attention to the Committee’s disregard for Ms. Lerner’s right not to incriminate herself and away from the scandal itself.
There is a legitimate scandal here. The evidence that Ways and Means has submitted to Atty. Gen. Holder is substantial and appears damning. Even worse, violations of the Hatch Act appear to be endemic in the IRS. Caesar’s wife must be above reproach.
As I have maintained from the first public revelations of the scandal, despite the fond hopes, apparently, of Oversight and Reform, it does not reach directly to the White House. Democratic committee member Elijah Cummings may become collateral damage if the allegations of his collusion with the IRS have any legs but that, too, is a sideshow.
The real scandal revolves around whether government agencies should be, as one writer put it “politicized and weaponized” and IMO Ways and Means was quite correct in taking its next step.
The ball will then be in Atty. Gen. Holder’s court. If he refuses to investigate or is dilatory or superficial in his investigation, I suspect his impeachment is all but certain. Doing otherwise would foment a constitutional crisis.
“What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?”, Atty. Gen. Holder recently whinged. If recollection serves, most of them. Which, sadly, is as it should be. That more attorneys general have not been impeached is a scandal and an outrage. The post has become a sort of bagman for the presidents the attorney general serves.
When we were a tiny country with a small, relatively powerless federal government, and before the rise of political parties, that may have been excusable but conditions have changed and they changed long ago. The country’s chief prosecutor needs to be that.