An attorney for the high-ranking IRS official who ignited the agency’s political targeting scandal with a public apology this month plans to invoke her right to remain silent instead of answering questions from top House investigators on Wednesday.
Lois Lerner was arguably the most important witness scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, as Congress dives into revelations the IRS singled out tea party and conservative groups for extra scrutiny between 2010 and 2012.
But her lawyer wrote to Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican, to notify the committee of her intent to invoke her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
She remains under subpoena by the committee, which “has a Constitutional obligation to conduct oversight,” Mr. Issa’s spokesman, Ali Ahmad, said Tuesday.
“Chairman Issa remains hopeful that she will ultimately decide to testify tomorrow about her knowledge of outrageous IRS targeting of Americans for their political beliefs,” he said.
Ms. Lerner led the IRS division on tax-exempt organizations and told specialists in the Cincinnati office in July 2011 to stop using partisan criteria to vet applications, according to a report from the Treasury’s Inspector General for Tax Administration. She now leads the IRS office that oversees implementation of part of President Obama’s health-care law.
Top IRS officials who testified before Congress in recent days said they had little to no knowledge of any partisan targeting at the agency, leaving Ms. Lerner as a crucial witness.
Ms. Lerner apologized for the agency’s actions earlier this month during an event with the American Bar Association, an attempt to get ahead of the story before the audit’s release.
Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday he takes responsibility for staging a question that led to the apology during the event.
“Obviously the entire thing was an incredibly bad idea,” he said.