The House Ways and Means Committee voted Wednesday to send a criminal referral regarding former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner's treatment of conservative nonprofits during the 2012 election.
The referral letter lays out a case that Lerner targeted groups like Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)4 that is part of Karl Rove's fundraising apparatus. The letter also reveals that Lerner expressed interest in a job with Organizing for America on Jan. 28, 2013, a 501(c)4 outgrowth of the Obama presidential campaigns. Lerner wrote to a fellow federal employee, “Oh—maybe I can get the DC office job!" Regardless of Lerner's intended tone with that comment (it appears to be a joke), House Republicans -- who have been looking into the IRS's treatment of conservative nonprofits for over a year -- have clearly jumped on it as further evidence of wrongdoing, what the letter deems, "turning a blind eye to similarly-organized liberal groups, like Priorities USA."
The previous hearings and investigations into the IRS last year mostly featured smaller tea party-affiliated groups. House Republicans accused the IRS of scrutinizing independent expenditure groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in their name more heavily than other groups. The IRS also closely examined groups with "occupy" and "progressive" in their name -- among many other buzzwords that made it easier to sort through the many new groups being formed since the Citizens United decision.
Crossroads GPS is much bigger than these narrower groups. It spent more than $70 million during the 2012 election.
The committee, which is dominated by Republicans, voted 23-14, along party lines, to refer Lerner's case to the Justice Department. If prosecuted for the criminal acts alleged by the Ways and Means Committee, she could face a sentence of 11 years in federal prison.
Republican Rep. Dave Camp, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement Wednesday, "Today’s action highlights specific wrongdoing for the Department of Justice to pursue. DOJ has a responsibility to act, and Lois Lerner must be held accountable. It is also important that the American people know what really occurred at the IRS, so this powerful agency cannot target American taxpayers ever again.”
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) also released a statement on the vote Wednesday, saying, "As I’ve said, if Lois Lerner continues to refuse to testify, then the House will hold her in contempt. And we will continue to shine the light on the administration’s abusive actions and use every tool at our disposal to expose the truth and ensure the American people get the answers they deserve.”
William Taylor, who is Lerner's attorney said in a statement Wednesday that "the Committee’s referral affects nothing. The Department of Justice is already investigating the IRS. This is just another attempt by Republicans to vilify Ms. Lerner for political gain." He adds, "the timing of today’s vote is odd. We have not heard from the House Ways and Means Committee. Nor has the Committee previously issued a report of its findings."