Updated March 4; originally posted March 3
Lois Lerner’s attorney has denied claims from a key Republican that the former Internal Revenue Service official agreed to testify Wednesday about the agency’s targeting controversy, but e-mails suggest Lerner had indeed considered talking to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Lerner previously invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to speak about the matter during a hearing before the committee last year.
But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), head of the House oversight committee, said during a March 2 appearance on “Fox News Sunday” that he had some news.
“Her attorney indicates now that she will testify,” Issa said. “We’ve had a back-and-forth negotiation, but quite frankly, we believe that evidence that we’ve gathered causes her in her best interest to be summoned to testify.”
Lerner’s attorney, William Taylor, told The Post on Monday that he and his client had reached “no such agreement” with the committee, but an e-mail exchange provided by Issa’s office shows that the two sides had been close to a deal the day before the Fox News interview.
A member of Issa’s staff wrote to Taylor on March 1: “I understand from Jon that Ms. Lerner willing to testify, and she is requesting a one week delay. In talking to the Chairman, wanted to make sure we had this right.”
Taylor responded: “Yes.”
In an earlier e-mail, Taylor told Issa’s staff that Lerner might be willing to appear at a deposition if it would “satisfy any obligation she has or would have to provide information in connection with this investigation,” suggesting the former IRS official wanted to avoid the public attention of testifying before the committee.
On Tuesday, Taylor issued the following statement: “I do not intend to get into a debate about what was discussed in negotiations that were always, in my view, confidential. I am distressed, however, that those negotiations have been misrepresented for reasons I cannot understand. There was never any agreement with the Committee. Even if we might have come to one, Chairman Issa went on Fox News on Sunday and said Ms. Lerner had agreed to testify Wednesday, which was and is flatly untrue.”
Issa’s office said in a statement on Monday that the oversight committee does not generally disclose discussions about testimony involving private citizens, but that “in the case of Ms. Lerner, correspondence is being made available to set the record straight on offers made by her attorney about her willingness to testify and answer questions without any grant of immunity.”
Politico first reported the disagreement over Lerner’s willingness to testify, quoting Taylor saying he did not know why Issa made the statements Sunday. “As of now, she intends to continue to assert her Fifth Amendment rights,” he said of Lerner.
Taylor also mentioned to The Post that the hearing appeared to be aimed at vilifying Lerner.
Issa said Sunday that the committee event would be a “good fact-finding hearing.” But he also described Lerner as a “liberal individual who favored disclosure” and said that “we’ve interviewed all of the people around her to build a case for why she is at the center of this targeting.”
In May, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Russell George issued a report that said the IRS had targeted advocacy groups for extra scrutiny based on their policy positions. Lerner apologized for the actions just days before the release of the findings while answering a planted question at a legal conference.
Democrats have since questioned the review, suggesting that it focused too much on the IRS’s treatment of conservative groups while ignoring how the agency dealt with progressive organizations.
Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.) last month requested that a special watchdog council investigate how George conducted the audit, calling it “incomplete,” “fundamentally flawed” and “outright misleading.”
George defended his audit in a recent interview with The Post, saying: “We noted there were other ‘be on the lookout’ lists that included other types of organizations, but that was not the initial charge of the review and not the focus.”
The inspector general added that his office ultimately examined the entire review process for groups that apply for tax exemption as “social welfare” organizations under 501 (c)(4) of the tax code.
Current regulations say those groups must be “primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community,” but the IRS uses a largely subjective test to determine what falls outside those bounds. The audit said a lack of clarity on the guidelines contributed to the IRS targeting actions.
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