Lois Lerner, who was in charge of the Internal Revenue Service office that improperly subjected conservative organizations to additional scrutiny, refused to answer questions at a House committee hearing Wednesday. Instead, she invoked her constitutional right against self-incrimination, Ed O’Keefe and William Branigan report:

“I have not done anything wrong,” she said. “I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations. And I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”

On the advice of counsel, she said, she would not answer further questions. (Read the complete article here.)

According to a spokesman, the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), believes that Lerner’s assertion of her right was legally invalid and that he could call her before the committee again. If Lerner refuses to testify, Issa would have to convince a judge to hold her in contempt of Congress, reports Juliet Eilperin:

“After consulting with counsel, Chairman Issa has concluded that Ms. Lerner’s 5th Amendment assertion is no longer valid,” Issa spokesman Ali Ahmad wrote in an e-mail. “She remains under subpoena, the Committee is looking at recalling her for testimony.”

In effect, Issa and his lawyers are arguing that Lerner’s detailed opening statement could be interpreted as a “subject matter waiver,” meaning she had made factual statements about the case, which then opened the door for the committee to ask her for more details.

Wednesday’s hearing was the third congressional hearing on the matter so far. Steven Miller, who recently resigned as acting commissioner of the IRS, testified at a hearing in another House committee Friday. A Senate committee also held a hearing Tuesday at which Douglas Shulman, who left the agency during President Obama’s first term, testified. None of these officials have directly assumed responsibility for the actions of the IRS office, Sean Sullivan writes:

When it comes to scandals, the public needs to see a fall guy (or girl) before any kind of closure can be achieved. Heads rolling and that sort of thing. Sure, Obama demanded and received the resignation of [former acting commissioner Steven] Miller. But Miller and his former colleagues have been none too keen on becoming public scapegoat No. 1.

And until/unless someone does, the president will continue to face heat from Republicans and scrutiny from the media, even though, as the White House has repeated over and over, Obama didn’t even learn anything about the targeting effort until it was reported in the news on May 10. (Read more here.)

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in an interview aired on Fox News on Wednesday that he believes that Obama has long known about the practices at the IRS, Aaron Blake reports:

“It’s pretty inconceivable to me that the president wouldn’t know,” Boehner said in an interview with Fox News Channel’s Greta van Susteren. “I’m just putting myself in his shoes. I deal with my senior staff every day. And if the White House had known about this, which now it appears they’ve known about it for about a year, it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t have come up in some conversation.”

Boehner says the White House knew of the targeting last year, but he appears to be referring to Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, who isn’t technically in the White House but is a political appointee. Wolin testified Wednesday that he didn’t inform either the White House or the Obama campaign about the IRS targeting. (Read more here.)

During a House hearing on Friday, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George testified on his office’s investigation into the IRS probe into conservative groups. (The Washington Post)

According to Eilperin and Philip Rucker, senior staff at the White House who did know about the situation went to some lengths to prevent the president from learning about it:

The notice Ruemmler saw on April 24 gave her a thumbnail sketch of a disturbing finding: that the IRS had improperly targeted tea party and other conservative groups. She shared the news with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and other senior White House aides, who all recognized the danger of the findings.

But they agreed that it would be best not to share it with President Obama until the independent audit was completed and made public, in part to protect him from even the appearance of trying to influence an investigation. . .

Ruemmler and McDonough’s careful plan for the IRS was upended on May 10, when Lois Lerner, a senior official at the agency, broke the news by admitting that the IRS had given extra scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Senior White House officials were stunned to see the IRS trying to get ahead of its own story — and in doing so, creating a monstrous communications disaster for an administration that appeared not to know what its agencies were up to. (Read the complete article here.)