The IRS has announced the retirement of Lois Lerner, one of the key officials at the center of the scandal over the agency’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt status.
Lerner, the former head of the IRS’s tax-exempt organizations office, had been on paid administrative leave since she asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify before the House Oversight Committee in May.
E-mails and other testimony by IRS employees have contradicted Lerner’s initial claims that this behavior was the result of low-level, rogue employees in the Cincinnati office of the IRS. We now know that high-level IRS employees in Washington as well as other IRS offices were involved.
In fact, according to The Wall Street Journal, e-mails from Lerner to her staff, which were disclosed in September by the House Ways and Means Committee, “raise doubts about IRS claims that the targeting wasn’t politically motivated,” too. Lerner said in the e-mails that a Tea Party matter was “very dangerous” and was something that her counsel and adviser needed “to be in on.”
These e-mails also seem to contradict her prior claim that she didn’t know about the targeting of conservative groups until she read about it in the press. To his credit, acting IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel has asked a review board and the IRS inspector general to investigate the matter.
Regardless of what happens to Lerner, who is entitled to a presumption of innocence, it is vital that Congress continue to investigate this matter to find out exactly what happened at the IRS. The IRS is one of the most powerful agencies in the federal government. Its bureaucrats have the ability to devastate and ruin the lives, businesses, and prosperity of every American—as well as the membership associations that form a fundamental part of our body politic and through which citizens assert their views and opinions.
We should not forget the danger posed by an out-of-control and abusive IRS. We should determine why this happened, who authorized it, and what steps need to be taken to make sure it does not happen again.