Two top Republicans asked the Justice Department on Wednesday to take a new look at the evidence against former IRS senior executive Lois G. Lerner to see whether charges should still be brought against her for targeting Tea Party groups and losing key evidence in the case.
Ms. Lerner was cleared after an investigation by the Obama administration but Reps. Kevin Brady and Peter Roskam, respectively the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and the panel’s tax policy subcommittee, say there are plenty of questions with how that probe was run, and said that a new look by the Trump administration’s Justice Department is warranted.
“Taxpayers deserve to know that the DOJ’s previous evaluation was not tainted by politics,” the congressmen said in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
But William W. Taylor, Ms. Lerner’s lawyer, said she was properly cleared of charges by the previous probe.
“Ms. Lerner did not violate any laws. There is no evidence that she did and no new investigation will change that reality,” he said in an email to The Washington Times on Wednesday.
The IRS targeting came to light nearly four years ago after Ms. Lerner, seeking to get ahead of bad news from an inspector general’s investigation, planted a question at a conference to reveal that her agency had in fact been singling out conservative groups for intrusive scrutiny.
IRS leaders had previously denied any such targeting in responses to Congress.
Ms. Lerner was a central figure in the investigation, though her exact role remains in dispute.
Republicans say she helped orchestrate the targeting, and released emails showing animus toward conservative groups and the GOP. But the Obama administration not only cleared her of wrongdoing, but said she was actually trying to fix things from the inside, becoming the first official to realize what the agency was doing was wrong.
Mr. Brady and Mr. Roskam said their committee’s own exhaustive investigation found that Ms. Lerner did “improperly influence” the IRS to target conservative groups, denying them their right to approval for tax-exempt status.
The Ways and Means Committee also determined that Ms. Lerner gave “misleading statements” to the inspector general, and said her use of a personal email to do some government business “risked exposing, and may actually have disclosed, confidential taxpayer information.”
After the May 2013 revelation of the targeting, President Obama called for an investigation. The Ways and Means Committee issued its official referral of Ms. Lerner to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation nearly a year later.
Along the way, though, even as the probe was continuing, Mr. Obama asserted that there was “not a smidgen of corruption” at the IRS. Mr. Brady and Mr. Roskam said that preempted the chance for a fair inquiry from his own employees.
“It is clear that when the DOJ announced in October 2015 that it would not bring charges against Lois Lerner, the agency was following President Obama’s signal on how he wanted the investigation to be handled,” the congressmen said.
At the time, Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said career prosecutors had decided against bringing charges, saying that while there was evidence of bad management and poor judgment, none of that rose to the level of a crime.
Whatever the situation with the Justice Department, the IRS is still facing legal wrangling over the targeting. A class-action lawsuit involving 428 groups that were part of the targeting is still proceeding in a federal court in Ohio, and two cases are still live in a federal court in Washington, D.C.
The IRS has been a target for the GOP for years — and the agency, under Mr. Obama, feuded back. Two years ago the agency siphoned money away from taxpayer services, leaving the vast majority of phone calls during tax season unanswered, as the agency tried to angle for more money out of the GOP-led Congress.
Mr. Brady has called on President Trump to fire IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, saying his role in that poor customer service, and in misleading Congress about the loss of Ms. Lerner’s emails, has sapped trust in the tax agency.
Efforts to impeach Mr. Koskinen had stalled in the House.
His term expires in November