Lois Lerner, Director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS, joined the McCuistion Program in 2009 for two episodes– on Not For Profits Under IRS and Legal Scrutiny, and other non profit challenges, (http:/// www.frtv.org, episodes 1707 and 1708).
On the program, Lerner offered an assurance that the IRS does what they can to ensure that each community nonprofit organization has easy access to the tools and resources they need to access government help and to ensure they are operating above board.
Fast forward to recent events- and we learn a different story from the position she took on our program. Ms. Lerner, who is at the center of the recent controversy to target conservative organizations for gratuitous scrutiny, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination today, May 22, at a congressional hearing examining the scandal. Yet the tax exempt division, which Lerner ran, had created a “be on the lookout” list for tax exempt applications that used “patriot”, or “tea party” in their paperwork and seemed to be primarily involved in electoral politics. Lerner had supposedly tried to temper efforts to target conservative groups and then went onto to make the issue public.
When it became her turn to speak, Lerner read a brief statement into the record, declaring her innocence. “I have not done anything wrong,” she said. “I have not broken any laws, I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”
Because I’m asserting my right not to testify, I know that some people will assume that I’ve done something wrong. I have not,” she reiterated. “One of the basic functions of the Fifth Amendment is to protect innocent individuals, and that is the protection I’m invoking today.”
There have been many inconsistencies and misstatements in Lerner’s story. IRS officials and an inspector general have said that while there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, at least at this point, lawmakers have called for Lerner to step down. The Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into the issues. Her testimony is critical, as the IRS officials who have testified so far, say they don’t know who was responsible for the targeting.
The frustration over her silence was shared on both sides of the aisle. “If this committee is prevented, by obstruction or by refusal to answer, the questions that we need to get to the bottom of this, you will leave us no alternative but to ask for the appointment of a special prosecutor or appointment to special counsel to get to the bottom of this,” Lynch, D-Mass., said. “I hope that’s not the approach of the IRS going forward because there will be hell to pay if that’s the route that we chose to go down.”
Surveys recently showed that 61% of those surveyed believe the government is out of control and threatening our civil liberties. This scandal has many concerned. Chairman Issa has criticized the IRS for failing to meet its objective as an independent agency.
“We knew then that something seemed to be wrong. We knew then that there was smoke. We knew then that, in fact, something just didn’t seem to be right,” he said. “Many people believe that the IRS is an independent agency. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Thanks for joining us as we continue with conversations that matter….
Executive Producer/ Producer McCuistion