Last week, Lois Lerner told a House Oversight committee that she had done “nothing wrong” while serving as the Director of the Tax-Exempts Division at the Internal Revenue Service. Lerner then promptly invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to provide any information to the committee. Lerner is protecting more than her reputation.
In 2010, the Lerner became aware that her division was targeting conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. The flagging of groups thought to be right-wingers was changed to eliminate any partisan preferences. The change was not permanent since the IRS decided to scrutinize conservative applicants again in 2012.
While Lerner states that she did nothing wrong, she was in charge of the division during the periods that were investigated. The idea to blame low-level employees for the targeting makes it seem that Lerner was an incompetent manager. The blame also insists that those employees could set flagging criteria independently without managerial oversight.
It may never be known if Lerner was an incompetent manager or not. What is known is that she quickly approved tax-exempt status for an organization founded by President Obama’s half-brother. The approval also included granting retroactive tax-exempt status that was outside of the IRS’ guidelines.
Since Lerner’s lack of testimony before Congress, she has been placed on administrative leave by the IRS. Lerner was asked to submit her resignation but refused, prompting the action. Lerner will still receive her pay and benefits while on administrative leave.
Lerner may believe that she did nothing wrong and should not be held accountable for her subordinates’ actions. She may also be nervous about bypassing IRS regulations for the Obama family. In either case, her choice to take the FifthAmendment keeps her silent. What is known is that she followed orders to target conservative groups and to help Obama’s half-brother.
The idea that low-level IRS personnel can set flagging criteria without direction does not make sense. The change had to be approved by someone with authority. The fact that Obama’s half-brother could get his organization tax-exempt status without penalties does not make sense, either. The push had to be directed from someone with authority.
Lerner has not been telling the truth and will hide behind the Fifth Amendment. In the mean time, the president and the Democratic National Committee are planning their next move.