House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said high-ranking IRS official Lois Lerner should have shed light on what led to the agency’s targeting of conservative groups in recent years instead of refusing to testify before House investigators.
“I do think the American people deserve answers,” the California Democrat said during her weekly news conference on Thursday. “I wish that she would have provided them.”
Ms. Lerner told the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday she did nothing wrong while the agency imposed extra scrutiny on tea party groups and others at the IRS’ Cincinnati office from 2010 to 2012.
However, she refused to answer the committee’s questions. The committee may call her back, on the basis that she waived her Fifth Amendment privileges by providing an opening statement under oath.
Ms. Lerner is seen as a crucial witness, because she told IRS specialists in July 2011 to broaden their criteria for reviewing certain tax-exempt organizations so it did not appear to be partisan.
Earlier this month, she disclosed and apologized for the targeting during an event with the American Bar Association, in what top IRS officials said was a clumsy attempt to get in front of the story before the Treasury inspector general for tax administration released his findings.
Speaking broadly, the House’s top-ranking Democrat said the scandal should not be politicized. It is unfair to hold President Obama accountable for what happened, Mrs. Pelosi argued, much as it would be illogical to blame House Speaker John A. Boehner for the examiners’ behavior in the IRS’s Cincinnati office — where the right-wing targeting originated — because his congressional district happens to be nearby.
She also noted the offending activity happened during the tenure of former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush.
“We all are concerned about how the IRS does what it’s supposed to do,” she said.
Ms. Pelosi also suggested that underlying problems in the tax code fostered an environment in which political groups can take advantage of their tax-exempt status. While their political activity must be limited, groups with a so-called 501(c)(4) designation do not have to reveal their donors.
“If they had to disclose,” she said, “they wouldn’t be putting money into these 501(c)(4)s. … I’m talking the big money, now.”