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Ex-IRS Executive Lerner Breaks 15 Months of Silence

Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS tax-exempt organizations division. Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS tax-exempt organizations division. Lauren Victoria Burke/AP file photo

After 15 months of silence since invoking her Fifth Amendment rights before Congress, Lois Lerner, the former Internal Revenue Service executive whom Republicans place at the center of the targeting controversy, has weighed in.

In an exclusive two-hour interview with Politico, the former head of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division and her attorneys displayed some attitude toward her accusers and described her inability to find a new job.

Direct discussion of how she may have mishandled applications for tax-exempt status from conservative nonprofits, however, was off-limits due to the ongoing legal battle.

Lerner “has been painted in one dimension: as a powerful bureaucrat scheming with the Obama administration to cripple right-leaning nonprofits,” wrote reporter Rachael Bade. “Interviews with about 20 of her colleagues, friends and critics and a survey of emails and other IRS documents, however, reveal a much more complicated figure than the caricature she’s become in the public eye.”

Though some ex-colleagues said she played favorites, had a temper and made snap judgments, others called her highly professional, noting that she called hundreds of employees to boost morale. Lerner also did volunteer work rescuing animals after Hurricane Katrina, Politico noted.

Friends told Politico Lerner didn’t talk much about politics, and that she and her husband, though registered Democrats, were not heavy campaign donors or party insiders. Her attorney, Bill Taylor of Zuckerman Spaeder, said people should “consider whether being a registered member of one political party should disqualify people for government service, and if so, who would we get to run the government?”

In one of a few swipes at her congressional tormentors, Lerner said, “You don’t hear half of what happened because they are picking and choosing.”

She pooh-poohed the frequent accusation that she crashed her own computer to hide emails. “How would I know two years ahead of time that it would be important for me to destroy emails, and if I did know that, why wouldn’t I have destroyed the other ones they keep releasing?” she said.

Though Lerner may someday write a book giving her side of the story, she said she contents herself today with gardening and occasional volunteer work writing grant applications for an unnamed nonprofit.

Charles S. Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books, and organizational media strategies.

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