IRS Official at Center of Tea Party Scandal Retires

Lois Lerner, the IRS official who sparked the IRS Tea Party controversy, has retired. Lerner had been on administrative leave since last May, after she pleaded the Fifth Amendment before a Congressional committee.

Lerner was in charge of the IRS’s tax-exempt-organizations division last year when she was asked a planted question about the IRS's treatment of political groups, namely Tea Party organizations. Lerner admitted that some groups were unfairly flagged for review; initial reports said groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names received additional scrutiny, but it soon became clear that other, non-conservative groups were targeted as well, including a black nurses' association and a Palestinian-rights group. Lerner apologized, but not for targeting Tea Party groups; instead she apologized for asking for donor lists, a practice that’s usually against IRS policy.

"That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive, and it was inappropriate. That's not how we go about selecting cases," Lerner said at the time. "The IRS would like to apologize for that."

But two weeks later, when called before a Congressional committee investigating the controversy, Lerner kept quiet, choosing instead to plead the Fifth Amendment. She was placed on administrative leave two days later.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Lerner retired today after receiving word that she'd be fired otherwise.

A Democratic congressional aide said Ms. Lerner's decision came after an IRS review board had informed her that it was set to propose her removal from the agency. The board had found "neglect of duties" during her tenure as director of the IRS exempt-organizations division, as well as mismanagement consistent with critical findings of an earlier inspector general's report, the aide said.

The same congressional aide added that the review board found no evidence of political bias or willful misconduct, which confirmed previous reports that liberal churches and other groups were targeted alongside the Tea Party. Not that any of that matters to certain Republican lawmakers. From CBS News:

The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who has been aggressively investigating the IRS scandal, said in a statement, "Lois Lerner's exit from the IRS does not alter the Oversight Committee's interest in understanding why applicants for tax exempt status were targeted and inappropriately treated because of their political beliefs.

"We still don't know why Lois Lerner, as a senior IRS official, had such a personal interest in directing scrutiny and why she denied improper conduct to Congress. Her departure does not answer these questions or diminish the Committee's interest in hearing her testimony."

The IRS released a statement on Monday, acknowledging some wrong-doing and outlining the changes they've made since May.

"Since May, the IRS has taken decisive actions to correct failures in exempt organizations management, replacing top leadership throughout the chain of command," the statement said. "In addition, IRS acting commissioner Danny Werfel created an accountability review board to fully review information to ensure proper oversight in handling personnel issues."

"The IRS is making important progress on fixing the underlying management and organizational deficiencies," the statement said. "Our goal is to restore the public's faith and trust in the tax system. We have sent nearly 400,000 pages of documents to Congress and facilitated dozens of employee interviews. We look forward to continuing to cooperate with Congress and other investigations.”

[Image via AP]