House committee votes to refer Lerner to Justice Dept. for criminal charges

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The House Ways and Means Committee voted Wednesday to approve an referral to the Justice Department officially accusing Lois G. Lerner of breaking criminal laws in targeting tea party groups for special scrutiny in their tax-exempt status applications.

The 23-14 party-line vote sends the referral to the whole House for future action.

Ms. Lerner ran the tax-exempt division at the IRS, which has been accused of holding up and giving improper scrutiny to conservative groups that applied for nonprofit status.

Democrats called the committee vote “political” and Ms. Lerner’s lawyer, William W. Taylor III, said it was “odd,” arguing the committee never even issued an official finding in its investigation.

The committee debated the referral in closed session so the debate was not public.

But afterwards, the committee released a 14-page letter containing the referral. It accuses Ms. Lerner of “willful misconduct” in using her position to take action “against only conservative organizations,” lying to the inspector general who conducted the initial investigation, and potentially exposing private taxpayer information by using her personal email account for government business.

In one case, the committee said Ms. Lerner sought to influence the IRS appeals process, after some groups appealed their denials.

Rep. Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, tried to object to holding the proceedings behind closed doors, but Chairman Dave Camp overruled him.

“I don’t understand why you are doing this Mr. Chairman,” Mr. Levin said in a prepared statement he was unable to deliver. “You have hand selected information that you believe proves your case from the about 700,000 documents provided during this investigation. You have given Members 24 hours to look at it. And, you have not provided them the necessary authority to look at any other documents, beyond what is included in the notebooks, so that members could reach a conclusion on their own.”

Mr. Taylor, Ms. Lerner’s lawyer, said that the vote doesn’t change anything since the Justice Department was already investigating the IRS.

He has previously acknowledged Ms. Lerner has spoken to the Justice Department as part of its investigation — though she has refused to talk to Congress, and House Republicans are preparing a contempt of Congress citation against her.

Ms. Lerner has done nothing wrong,” Mr. Taylor said in his statement Wednesday. “She did not violate any law or regulation. She did not mislead Congress. She did not interfere with the rights of any organization to a tax exemption. Those are the facts.”

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