Sad day for America: Loyal public servant Lois Lerner retires

Thankfully, she’ll no longer be in a position to affect policy as a government employee. Unfortunately, she’ll likely soon be back in a position to affect policy as a government lobbyist, making several times the salary she made before.

Taxpayers will remember her fondly as someone who, when asked for her help in uncovering potential IRS malfeasance against the president’s political enemies, clammed up and refused to cooperate for fear of incriminating herself.

Lois Lerner, the Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the agency’s tea party scandal, is retiring, the agency confirmed Monday.

Lerner headed the IRS division that handles applications for tax-exempt status when she was placed on paid leave in May. While she was in charge, the agency acknowledged that agents improperly targeted tea party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status from 2010 to 2012.

Lerner first disclosed the targeting at a law conference in May, when she was asked a planted question about IRS treatment of political groups. Less than two weeks later, she refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing, citing her constitutional right not to incriminate herself.

She was placed on “administrative leave” four months ago to the day, with Chuck Grassley saying at the time he’d heard that the interim director of the IRS had asked for Lerner’s resignation — and that she refused. Firing her was always an unlikely option, just because it’s hard to fire a federal employee under any circumstances, but I always assumed they placed her on leave initially with an eye to quietly reinstating her if/when the public storm over tea-party targeting finally blew over. (That’s what happened to the Benghazi Four, after all.) Chances of that evaporated last week, though, when the ACLJ released previously unknown e-mails from Lerner during her IRS days, one of which mentioned the tea-party matter being “very dangerous” for fear that it could be used to extend the “Citizens United” ruling to tax-exempt orgs. Then came the release of IRS documents scrutinizing groups for “anti-Obama rhetoric,” and that was probably it. Better for the agency to ease her out with some sort of retirement deal than keep her on and be dogged forever by questions about its impartiality. Politico, in fact, wondered last month if August would bring Lerner’s departure. Nope; evidently it took a few more black eyes for the IRS to make it happen.

Tough call now for Darrell Issa: Should he grant Lerner immunity to neutralize her privilege against self-incrimination and gain her testimony? Now that she’s no longer on Uncle Sam’s dime, she might be more candid than she’d otherwise be. Exit quotation:

Update: Looks like she’ll be keeping her pension, of course.