The House of Representatives voted Wednesday evening to find former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress and adopted a resolution calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS targeting scandal.
In a principally partisan display, the House voted 231 to 187, with six Democrats joining Republicans in support of the contempt resolution.
“It’s time for Lois Lerner to account for her actions, and if she won’t then the full force of the law should be brought to bear,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement after the vote. “The actions taken today also put the Obama administration on notice that the American people, and their representatives in the House, will not tolerate any more stonewalling.”
Lerner’s attorney, William W. Taylor, III, said the vote “has nothing to do with the facts or the law” and contended the only purpose of the resolution “is to keep the baseless IRS ‘conspiracy alive through the mid-term elections.”
“Ms. Lerner has not committed contempt of Congress. She did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights by proclaiming her innocence,” Taylor stated. “We provided our legal analysis to the Committee and the House, and we received no response. It is unfortunate that the majority party in the House has put politics before a citizen’s constitutional rights.”
Nearly one year ago, Lerner, the former director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS, gained national prominence when she appeared at a Washington law conference and publicly acknowledged the targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Since then, Lerner has been at the center of multiple congressional investigations.
She was subpoenaed to testify May 22, 2013 before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, when she read a long statement denying wrongdoing before she attempted to invoke her Fifth Amendment constitutional privilege not to testify.
Questions quickly arose surrounding the validity of Lerner’s assertion of the Fifth Amendment when Republicans determined her actions waived her right to refuse to testify.
Lerner was then placed on administrative leave May 23. She retired from the IRS last September.
But even though she left the agency, Lerner was not cleared as investigations continued.
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa then hauled Lerner back before his committee on March 5, where she again continued to stonewall lawmakers.
Issa’s committee then proceeded to a partisan vote April 10 to send the contempt resolution to the full House for consideration.
The House also voted 250 to 168 today to approve a resolution that calls on Holder to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS targeting scandal. Twenty-six Democrats supported the resolution, while no Republicans opposed it.
Afterwards, Issa called the contempt vote a “step toward a level of accountability that the Obama Administration has been unwilling to take” and said the Obama administration is compelled to act on the resolutions.
“Unless the President decides to assert executive privilege, there is no precedent for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to do anything but pursue this criminal case,” Issa, R-Calif., stated. “Absent political interference by the Administration, this legally binding action – as well as a separate resolution calling for a special prosecutor to take over the Main Justice Department’s tainted and dormant investigation – require the Justice Department to take action.”
Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, said DOJ “will carefully review” the resolution and “take whatever action is appropriate.”
“The department has an open investigation into this matter,” another DOJ spokesperson added. “It has been treated as a priority from the state and has been conducted with the utmost integrity throughout.”