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Witness to stay mum for US hearing on tax agency

 Several dozen tea party activists and other concerned citizens, wave signs and small American flags as they march outside the main Internal Revenue S...

IRS Political Groups

Several dozen tea party activists and other concerned citizens, wave signs and small American flags as they march outside the main Internal Revenue S...

A Republican-controlled committee taking Congress' latest look at the federal tax collection agency's mistreatment of conservative groups will apparently have to do so without input from the official who helped unleash a firestorm of criticism against the Obama administration.
Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner will invoke her constitutional right to not answer questions on Wednesday at a House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, her lawyer told the panel in a letter. Lerner triggered the recent IRS uproar at a legal conference nearly two weeks ago, when she revealed that the agency had subjected tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to extra scrutiny.
The scandal has been a political gift for Republicans, who have used it to attack President Barack Obama as he tries to push through his second-term legislative agenda ahead of next year's elections for Congress. The controversy also has breathed new life into the small-government tea party movement, whose influence had been waning.
Lerner, 62, an attorney who joined the IRS in 2001, heads the unit that decides whether groups qualify for the tax-exempt status. She apologized for the agency's actions, but has come under fire from members of both parties, including Democrat Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, who said in an interview Tuesday that she should lose her job.
In Lerner's absence, Wednesday's spotlight will be on another witness: Neal Wolin, the Treasury Department's deputy secretary.
J. Russell George, a Treasury inspector general, has said he told Wolin in mid-2012 that he was investigating the IRS' targeting of conservative groups, a report that was released last week. That means Wolin was the highest-ranking Treasury official to have known about the probe during last year's elections, making him a focus of interest for lawmakers.
"What did you know and when? Who did you tell?" Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a senior member of the Oversight Committee, said Tuesday of what he hopes to learn from Wolin.
Lerner's attorney, William W. Taylor III, has requested that she be excused from Wednesday's hearing, writing in the letter that forcing her to appear "would have no purpose other than to embarrass or burden her." But the committee has subpoenaed her and panel members say they expect her to attend.
In writing that Lerner would use her constitutional right against self-incrimination, Taylor noted that the Justice Department has started an investigation into the IRS controversy. He also referred to a letter she received last week from Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, saying she "provided false or misleading information on four separate occasions last year" to committee queries.
Oversight Committee staff questioned Lerner and other IRS officials last year after receiving complaints from tea party groups that they were being mistreated by the IRS, said Meghan Snyder, spokesman for Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, a member of the committee.
In responses to the committee, Lerner didn't mention that tea party groups had ever been targeted, according to documents. Her responses included 45-page letters in May 2012 to Issa and Jordan.
Lerner's revelation and apology at the May 10 legal conference came in response to a question that IRS officials later acknowledged they had planted with an audience member. Lerner's disclosure came days before George, the inspector general, released his report detailing the IRS' actions.
George's report found that in June 2011, Lerner discovered that her unit was searching for organizations with words like "tea party" or "patriots" in their applications and subjecting them to tougher questions. She ordered the initial tea party criteria to be scrapped, but it later evolved to include groups that promoted the Constitution, the report said. Lawmakers are curious about why the practice didn't stop entirely.
A career civil servant who has run the division since late 2005, Lerner has not been disciplined for her role, IRS officials said. But with Obama demanding that IRS officials be held accountable for the problem, many lawmakers believe more heads should roll.
George and Douglas Shulman, the former IRS commissioner who headed the agency while it was targeting conservative groups, are also scheduled to testify Wednesday.
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Associated Press Alan Fram and Stephen Ohlemacher.


Updated : 2021-06-15 12:36 GMT+08:00