The woman who made herself infamous for refusing to testify in the IRS scandal has finally broken her silence … to Politico, anyway. Flanked by lawyers during the interview, Lerner insists she did nothing wrong while running the tax-exempt unit at the IRS when it singled out conservative groups for investigation. If that’s the case, though, why is she telling that to Politico now rather than the House Oversight Committee then?
Lois Lerner is toxic — and she knows it. But she refuses to recede into anonymity or beg for forgiveness for her role in the IRS tea party-targeting scandal.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Lerner said in her first press interview since the scandal broke 16 months ago. “I’m proud of my career and the job I did for this country.”
The Inspector General of the Treasury certainly thought someone did something wrong. The original report revealed a concerted effort to target conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status for their efforts, while progressive applicants got a much easier ride. That targeting took place in Lerner’s unit, and just to emphasize that, Lerner and her management staged an apology right before the IG report went public in May 2013. Then-IRS commissioner Steve Miller acknowledged that he and Lerner staged that apology to take the sting out of the exposure of the targeting plot a week after it was given:
Needless to say, Lerner could have avoided at least some of the vitriol aimed her way if she had sat down with the House Oversight Committee and explained to them how she “didn’t do anything wrong.” Lerner could even have brought her attorneys along for the conversation. Instead, she chose to take the Fifth, only after reading an inflammatory declaration of her complete innocence and refusal to cooperate. As an American citizen, she’s certainly within her rights to take the Fifth, but she’s not just a random suspect in a crime either. As a high-ranking member of the federal government, she’s also accountable to Congress and the American people — especially as a high-ranking official of the IRS, one of the least-forgiving of all agencies.
She’s entitled to take the Fifth. And we’re entitled to be suspicious when a high-level bureaucrat caught up in a scandal refuses to be accountable to Congress and then wants our sympathy on the pages of Politico.
The rest of this piece is sheer drivel, and perhaps the most monumental effort ever made in print to deliberately miss the point. Rachel Bade starts off in the lead suggesting that anti-Semitism is what’s driving the criticism of Lerner, goes through a few paragraphs of “some say” framing of Lerner criticisms and defenses, and then goes into a lengthy anecdote about how Lerner rescued pets during Hurricane Katrina. Only after dozens of paragraphs do we get to the section titled “Unanswered Questions,” where Bade finally concedes this point:
As head of the division where it all began, Lerner certainly bears some of the blame for the selective scrutiny of tea party applications, and numerous emails understandably raise eyebrows.
So yes, the claim that Lerner “didn’t do anything wrong” is complete nonsense. Democrats, Blade assures us, are “still furious that Lerner didn’t tell Congress about the situation sooner,” but doesn’t get around to mentioning that Lerner hasn’t told Congress about it at all, let alone sooner. Instead, Bade shortly returns to her real interest, which is framing Lerner as someone of courage who won’t let critics “ruin her life.” Too bad Lerner didn’t have that same ethos about the people whose grassroots groups were targeted by her unit.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled the reporter’s last name, which is Bade, not Blade. I apologize for the error.