A Slow Lerner

Barb Wire

By Tony Perkins

Family Research Council – It wasn’t what Lois Lerner said at yesterday’s House hearing that incriminated her — but what she didn’t. For the second time, the former head of the IRS’s tax-exempt division pled the Fifth Amendment, dodging the tough questions about the agency’s discrimination against conservative and Christian groups. Government Oversight and Reform Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said over the weekend he was confident Lerner would testify, only to be proved wrong in a frustrating display of administration obstructionism.

Lerner sat quietly through the series of damning slides from Issa’s investigation, her silence deafening. Determined to get answers, the California Republican asked Lerner what she meant when she emailed colleagues that tea party cases were “very dangerous.” He pressed her about a message to her staff about initiating a “c4 project,” after which she wrote, “we need to be cautious so it isn’t a per se political project.” When she weighed the applications of nonprofit groups with the word “tea party” or “patriot” in their titles, Issa wanted to know why they had to undergo a “multi-tier review” instead of the standard process. What did Lois mean, for example, when she suggested writing new regulations on political speech for c4 groups that was “off-plan” in 2013? The response to every question was the same: “On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.”

Finally fed-up, Issa angrily adjourned the hearing and cut off the mics — but not before a spat with liberal Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who complained the committee was over-polarizing the controversy. But if anyone is guilty of over-polarizing, it’s the IRS and White House. Almost a year after admitting to and apologizing for harassing conservatives, liberals suddenly insist the scandal is a “phony” one. But if it’s so phony, why won’t Lois Lerner cooperate with the investigation? And if there’s no truth to the allegations, why resign? Obviously, the administration must be hiding something.

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When the President sat down with Bill O’Reilly before the Super Bowl, he blamed the targeting on “some bone-headed decisions… out of a local office.” “But no mass corruption?” O’Reilly pressed. To which President Obama replied, “Not even a smidgeon of corruption.” Now, I don’t know what the President’s definition of “corruption” is, but based on the last five years, it’s vastly different than most Americans’. And anyone demanding immunity before testifying doesn’t exactly seem above suspicion.

For now, the GOP is keeping its options open — including a formal censure of Lerner. “I’ll wait for a report from Issa about what happened and what will happen,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said frankly, “but at some point… she has to testify or she should be held in contempt.” In the meantime, the reality is that the IRS is already held in contempt where it matters most — with taxpayers.

(Via FRC’s Washington Update)

Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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