You should probably sit down for this one. Grab a paper bag and get your nitroglycerin pills ready: According to reports on Wednesday, the former head of the IRS’s responsible for the recognition of tax-exempt status, Lois Lerner, will not face criminal contempt charges.
Still with us? Good. The Department of Justice’s decision was reached after Lerner was recommended for charges by the U.S. House of Representatives following a dramatic appearance before a House committee in 2014 when she repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment rights. Lerner’s decision to invoke her constitutional right against self-incrimination was a controversial one at the time. Former House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (D-CA) had claimed that Lerner waived that right after she decided to issue a lengthy opening statement in her defense before asserting her right not to respond to the questions of House investigators.
According to a letter addressed to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) from former U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, Lerner “did not waive her Fifth Amendment right by making an opening statement on May 22, 2013, because she made only a general claims of innocence.”
Machen added: “Given that assessment, we have further concluded that it is not appropriate for a United States attorney to present the matter to the grand jury for action where, as here, the Constitution prevents the witness from being prosecuted for contempt.”
Lerner, unsurprisingly, was pleased by the announcement. “Anyone who takes a serious and impartial look at this issue would conclude that Ms. Lerner did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights,” said Lerner’s attorney, William Taylor III, in a statement. “It is unfortunate that the majority party in the House put politics before a citizen’s constitutional rights.”
“Ms. Lerner is pleased to have this matter resolved and looks forward to moving on with her life,” Taylor added.
The Department of Justice may have had a conflict of interest in this case. According to documents acquired by the government oversight group Judicial Watch, Lerner apparently was in regular contact with the election crimes branch of the DOJ during the period in which the IRS was alleged by Lerner’s own admission to be targeting tea party groups with undue scrutiny.
At Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-RI) request, Lerner apparently even took meetings with officials at the DOJ to investigate the prospects for prosecuting tax-exemption applicants for misleading federal officials about the political nature of their organizations.
“These new documents dramatically show how the Justice Department is up to its neck in the IRS scandal and can’t be trusted to investigate crimes associated with the IRS abuses that targeted Obama’s critics,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement following the release of DOJ emails obtained via FOIA request. “Only as a result of Judicial Watch’s independent investigations did the American people learn about the IRS-DOJ prosecution discussions of Obama’s political enemies and how the IRS sent, in violation of law, confidential taxpayer information to the FBI and DOJ in 2010. Richard Nixon was impeached for less.”
Nixon may have been impeached, but Lerner will not even face an indictment. At least, not while this president occupies the Oval Office.