IRS official at center of scandal put on leave

WASHINGTON Thu May 23, 2013 7:56pm EDT

Former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Douglas Shulman (L) looks on as Director of Exempt Organizations for the IRS Lois Lerner delivers an opening statement to a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on alleged targeting of political groups seeking tax-exempt status from by the IRS, on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 22, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Douglas Shulman (L) looks on as Director of Exempt Organizations for the IRS Lois Lerner delivers an opening statement to a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on alleged targeting of political groups seeking tax-exempt status from by the IRS, on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lois Lerner, an Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the scandal over the agency's extra scrutiny of conservative groups, was put on administrative leave on Thursday after she refused to resign, a senator said.

Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa said new acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel asked for Lerner's resignation.

An IRS spokesman declined to comment on Lerner's status, citing privacy concerns. However, an internal memo supplied by the agency named Lerner's replacement.

An aide to Grassley said Werfel spoke with Grassley's office on Thursday afternoon and conveyed the information.

A bipartisan chorus in Congress had been calling for her to go. Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Republican Senator John McCain had written to Werfel earlier on Thursday calling for her to be removed.

The move comes one day after a defiant Lerner refused to answer questions during a House of Representatives panel hearing into why workers in a Cincinnati, Ohio, field office of the IRS in early 2010 began targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt status.

Lerner oversaw the tax-exempt division.

Her lawyer, William Taylor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment late on Thursday.

Lerner is seen as a key figure in the unfolding scandal that has spawned a Justice Department criminal probe and become a distraction for President Barack Obama as he pursues an ambitious second-term agenda.

Three congressional hearings over the past week have failed to reveal who at the IRS was responsible for the targeting that occurred for roughly 18 months.

On Wednesday, Lerner denied she had done anything wrong, but asserted her constitutional right against self-incrimination.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa has accused Lerner of providing "false or misleading information" to his committee on four occasions last year.

Lerner was the official who first publicly acknowledged the targeting by responding to a planted question about the topic at an American Bar Association conference on May 10.

The admission came before a Treasury Department inspector general report found that workers in the Cincinnati office used "inappropriate criteria" such as the terms "Tea Party" and "Patriots" to target the applications of conservative groups for intense scrutiny.

Lerner was alerted in June 2011 that partisan criteria were being used, and she ordered them changed. They were then changed back in January 2012 to again focus on the policy positions of organizations, but is it not clear who changed them.

"From all accounts so far, the IRS acting commissioner was on solid ground to ask for her resignation," Grassley said in a statement.

He added that Lerner "shouldn't be in limbo indefinitely on the taxpayers' dime."

Werfel, a White House budget official who officially started at the IRS on Wednesday, announced Lerner's replacement in an employee memo on Thursday.

Ken Corbin, a deputy director in charge of the wage and investment division at the IRS, will take over as acting director of the tax exempt organizations unit, Werfel said, without acknowledging Lerner.

Werfel himself took over for Acting Commissioner Steve Miller, who was fired by President Barack Obama over the controversy last week.

(Reporting By Kim Dixon and Rachelle Younglai; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Tim Dobbyn)

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Comments (46)
USAPragmatist wrote:
Sorry Mr Issa, I know you are a Republican so the Constitution only matters to you when it supports your position of the day, but the law of the land is the law of the land. Someone can invoke the 5th Amendment at any time.

If you really want to hear wwhat Ms. Lerner has to say, then give her immunity. Or just have a little patience and let the DoJ’s criminal investigation play out. But I know your main goal is not finding the actual truth, but to find something to impeach Obama on. That is why this, like Benghazi, is turning into a witch-hunt, Issa and the majority of the GOP have a pre-determined answer in their heads (that the order came directly from Obama, so they can impeach him) and they will not stop until they think they can prove that, even if it is not true. The right way to conduct investigations is to let the facts/evidence lead you to a conclusion, not the other way around.

May 23, 2013 11:31am EDT  --  Report as abuse
PortlandME wrote:
USA Pragmatist. Well said.

May 23, 2013 12:13pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
speaker12 wrote:
What a waist of time and money. The Obamists are all trained in evading the truth and you will not get answers from these creatures.

May 23, 2013 1:19pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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