By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
In 2010, conservative and libertarian Americans angered over passage of the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) began organizing a political movement we now refer to as the Tea Party.
President Obama began his presidency with a overwhelming Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and 3/5 of the U.S. Senate. Fueled by Tea Party momentum, the Republicans won back control of the House and narrowly lost winning control of the Senate in the 2010 election.
It appeared at the time that President Obama would be a one term President and that the GOP would regain control of the U.S. Senate. Instead in 2012, the Democrats were able to contain the Tea Party’s momentum and successfully re-elected Barack H. Obama, while actually picking up seats in the Senate. Most of this was due to an incredible fund raising and get out the vote effort by the Obama campaign team and the Democratic National Committee. It may not have made any difference to the eventual outcome, but they did have help from an elite team of IRS (Internal Revenue Service) agents coordinated by agent Lois Lerner, who was the director of the IRS’s Exempt Organization Division.
In theory, laws including tax law applies to all Americans equally without regard to whether or not the IRS agrees with your political philosophy. Real life does not work that way and Tea Party organizers including Wetumpka’s Becky Gerritson found themselves targeted by the IRS for their political activities.
Lerner has repeatedly refused to cooperate with Congressional investigations of her taxpayer funded partisan activities. On Wednesday, May 7 Congress responded by making her only the fifth government official in American History to be found in Contempt of Congress by the full House of Representatives.
Congresswoman Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery said in a written statement following the vote, “Every year, ordinary Americans play by the rules when paying taxes and interacting with the IRS, and if we step out of line there are consequences. We should demand the same accountability from those serving in the IRS. Lois Lerner was trusted with immense responsibility to ensure the rule of law, and instead it appears she used her position of authority to project a political agenda. Even now she continues to stonewall Members of Congress who are simply seeking the truth.”
Congressman Bradley Byrne (R) from Montrose said, “In the United States of America, we have a democratic system based on the basic freedom of political expression. What transpired at the IRS on this Administration’s watch is simply un-American. I believe the Administration has lost sight of the fact that it is elected to serve the American people, and is entrusted with a responsibility to disclose the entire truth – not just what’s politically convenient.”
The House also passed a resolution calling on Attorney General Eric Holder (D) and the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS targeting scandal.
Rep. Roby said, “The Justice Department had a chance to prove it was truly committed to accountability by swiftly and aggressively investigating this issue, and prosecuting those who were responsible. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. It is that lack of accountability that has allowed Lois Lerner to think that she can ‘plead the Fifth’ to Congress without consequence. Today’s vote showed that isn’t the case. Congress has a Constitutional responsibility to provide oversight of the Executive Branch and to seek the truth on behalf of the American people. That is a responsibility I take very seriously.”
Congressman Byrne said, “Because the Administration continues to impede Congress from fulfilling its constitutional oversight responsibilities, I support these measures that will restore sanity to the process and allow these investigations to move forward. I will continue working with my colleagues to demand answers on this issue and ensure this blatant abuse of power will never occur again.”
Rep. Roby said that the vote to hold former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress is important towards holding the Executive Branch accountable for its actions.
Since May 2012, Congressional investigators have learned that the IRS had improperly targeted conservative groups applying for the normal tax-exempt status and that the IRS focused increased scrutiny on groups that “criticized how the country is being run” and expressed an interest in public awareness “on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
Numerous emails from Lerner, who was director of the IRS Exempt Organizations division at the time, indicated that she intentionally used her position to target groups based on their political beliefs. Lerner exercised her right to avoid self incrimination under the Fifth Amendment at a Congressional hearing last year.
Rep. Roby said, “I wish it hadn’t come to this. I wish Ms. Lerner had been forthcoming from the beginning about why her agency targeted groups and individuals because of their political beliefs. By dodging questions and obstructing the truth, Ms. Lerner has left us no choice but to publicly condemn her behavior and hasten the Justice Department to act.”
The contempt resolution will be referred to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia.
H.Res. 565 is the resolution calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special counsel to investigate the targeting of conservative non-profit groups by the IRS. H.Res. 574 recommends that the House of Representatives find Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R) from California said in a written statement, “While I am disappointed that Ms. Lerner decided to face our criminal justice system instead of testifying fully and truthfully before Congress, this vote is a step toward a level of accountability that the Obama Administration has been unwilling to take.”
Rep. Issa continued, “Lois Lerner presided over an effort to deprive Americans of their rights to participate in our political process and failed to meet her legal obligations to answer questions. E-mails and other documents obtained by the Committee have shown that IRS targeting of conservative groups occurred after she felt pressured to act following robust criticism by President Obama and other prominent members of his party about the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case.”
Congressman Issa continued, “To preempt the release of an independent investigation, Ms. Lerner publicly admitted that the IRS division she led had targeted conservatives. After waiving her right to protection from self-incrimination, Lerner had a choice: testify fully and truthfully about what occurred or face criminal contempt. Ms. Lerner refused to testify even after her attorney told Congress she would do so. Unless the President decides to assert executive privilege, there is no precedent for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to do anything but pursue this criminal case. Absent political interference by the Administration, this legally binding action – as well as a separate resolution calling for a special prosecutor to take over the Main Justice Department’s tainted and dormant investigation – require the Justice Department to take action.”
The House approved H.Res. 574, finding Director Lerner in contempt, on a vote of 231 to 187, with 6 Democrats voting yes. The House approved H.Res. 565, requesting the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS targeting scandal on a vote of 250 to 168, with 26 Democrats voting yes.