The official in charge of the exempt organizations division at center of the targeting scandal plaguing the Internal Revenue Service plans to invoke the Fifth Amendment, refusing to testify before a House oversight hearing this week.
“She has not committed any crime or made any misrepresentation but under the circumstances she has no choice but to take this course,” an attorney for Lois Lerner told committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) in a letter obtained Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times.
Since she intends not to answer questions, the letter requests Lerner be exempt from the Wednesday hearing because her appearance would “have no purpose other than to embarrass or burden her.”
Lerner initially revealed during a Q&A session in Washington that Internal Revenue Service agents employed at the Cincinnati branch office improperly scrutinized conservative non-profit groups for additional reviews from 2010 to 2012. Lerner only recently disclosed that the question was planted, however.
Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who was asked to step down following the controversy, said it was his idea to disclose the information in such a manner.
“I will take responsibility for that,” Miller told a congressional hearing on Tuesday. “The entire thing was an incredibly bad idea.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday that senior administration officials did discuss the matter with Treasury officials, but ultimately deferred to the department because an inspector general audit was not yet complete.
“There were communications with Treasury and [White House] counsel to understand the anticipated timing of the release of the report and the potential findings by the IG,” Carney said.
On Tuesday, Carney added that Treasury officials discussed the public rollout with White House staff in more detail. Per Politico:
There was “discussion about the possibility of a speech” by Lois Lerner, who oversaw the IRS’s work on tax-exempt groups, Carney said, and conversation about testimony by the acting commissioner of the agency and “what he would say” if asked about the issue.
Mark Childress, a deputy White House chief of staff, was the person who interacted with Treasury, Carney said.
The White House maintains that senior aides, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, did not inform President Barack Obama of the impending investigation at the direction of general counsel Kathy Ruemmler, believing it would have been inappropriate before the findings were finalized.