Democrats: Prosecuting Lois Lerner Could Violate Your Privacy

Former IRS official Lois Lerner Former IRS official Lois Lerner Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

With the House tax-writing panel poised to seek criminal charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner for her role in scrutinizing tea-party groups, Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee are sounding alarms—but not out of concern for Lerner.

Their fear is that prosecution of Lerner by the Justice Department could lead to unwarranted disclosure of confidential taxpayer information—information obtained by the committee under a special investigative authority.

“This would be the first use of the committee’s power to disclose confidential taxpayer information since the release of Richard Nixon’s tax returns in 1974, and I have serious concerns about the appropriateness of such action,” Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin said in a statement.

Lerner, the former IRS director of exempt organizations, has been embroiled in the controversy over the targeting of tea-party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status for special scrutiny.

“There is already an ongoing Justice Department investigation,” said Levin, a Michigan Democrat.

Aides to the committee’s Republican chairman, Dave Camp of Michigan, did not respond to requests for comment.

The anticipated closed-door vote by Camp’s panel on Wednesday to urge Justice to file at least three criminal charges against Lerner will precede another House committee’s deliberations on whether to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee had previously announced it would meet Thursday to discuss Lerner’s refusal to answer questions during the panel’s probe of the IRS controversy.

According to committee sources, Ways and Means members will convene and then vote to go into executive session to discuss sending a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder referring three charges against Lerner. Details of the specific charges were not immediately available.

Democrats on the panel have been critical of Lerner. In fact, when Lerner resigned her job in September, Levin said her actions constituted “gross mismanagement” of the IRS tax-exempt division and “led to improper handling of applications for tax-exempt status, whether conservative and progressive.”

But an aide to Levin said Tuesday that the senior Democrat is worried the planned vote to refer charges to the Justice Department will lead to public release of “a bunch” of taxpayer information that should remain private. The panel, explained the aide, has obtained some information under its so-called 6103 authority, referring to an area of the tax code that prohibits release of certain confidential taxpayer information. But the prohibition might not hold if the information forms the basis for any charges against Lerner.

Meanwhile, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California, is pressing ahead with plans to hold a contempt vote against Lerner on Thursday. Lerner twice invoked her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent during hearings before the panel. The committee on Tuesday released a report detailing the reasons for the planned action.

“Lois Lerner’s testimony is critical to the Committee’s investigation,” the report states. “Without her testimony, the full extent of the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party applications cannot be known, and the Committee will be unable to fully complete its work.”

The report includes emails Lerner purportedly sent to Michael Seto, manager of the technical office in the exempt-organizations division. In one email sent on Feb. 1, 2011, Lerner wrote, “Tea Party Matter very dangerous,” and she asked the Office of Chief Counsel to get involved.

Among its other findings is a conclusion that congressional Democrats made misleading claims about the targeting of liberal-oriented groups, too.

Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings has responded to the committee’s plans for a contempt action by asserting that the panel could have had Lerner’s testimony, but that Issa “rejected her attorney’s request for a simply one-week delay when he was out of town.”

“That was a shame because so many of our members—Republicans and Democrats—wanted to hear from her,” Cummings said in a statement. “Chairman Issa has demonstrated over and over again that he simply does not want to hear from anyone who disagrees with him or has information that does not fit his political narrative—including witnesses, independent legal experts, and even Committee Members like myself.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.