WASHINGTON D.C. – House Republicans announced Tuesday that they are recalling Lois G. Lerner, the former IRS employee at the center of the tea party targeting scandal, to testify to Congress next week, saying she has critical information.
Ms. Lerner asserted her right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination at a hearing last year, but at the time she also proclaimed her innocence. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, said she effectively waived her Fifth Amendment rights with that claim and made her open to being compelled to testify.
“Ms. Lerner’s testimony remains critical to the committee’s investigation,” Mr. Issa said in a letter to her attorney, William W. Taylor III. “Documents and testimony obtained by the committee show that she played a significant role in scrutinizing applications for tax exempt status from conservative organizations.”
The letter was sent as the Internal Revenue Service situation escalated on other fronts.
The White House issued a veto threat saying President Obama would reject a House bill, scheduled for a vote this week, that would stop the IRS from writing rules cracking down further on nonprofit groups that get involved in politics.
Meanwhile, the House passed two other bills that would rein in the IRS by giving it a one-year time limit to complete all audits and forcing the agency to be more responsive when taxpayers ask written questions.
The IRS came under scrutiny after an internal audit last year found that it improperly targeted tea party groups for special scrutiny in their nonprofit status applications. The tax agency held up a number of those applications for years.
Ms. Lerner was at the center of much of that scrutiny, according to emails that have been turned over to Congress showing that she took a deep interest in trying to prevent nonprofits from engaging in political activity.
Republicans initially seemed prepared to excuse her, but Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican and a former prosecutor, raised an objection saying her statement of innocence amounted to waiving her right to remain silent.
Ever since the audit revealed IRS targeting, the issue has roiled Washington.
Democrats say that while the agency may have overstepped its bounds in asking improper questions, there is no evidence that the targeting was politically motivated.
They said the problem is the rules, not the agency. They argue that too many groups — particularly conservative-leaning organizations — have formed as nonprofits under a part of the tax code that allows them to do some political activity while shielding their donors from public disclosure.