Lois Lerner Is Held in Contempt of Congress, in Massive Consolation Prize

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 7 2014 7:33 PM

Lois Lerner Is Held in Contempt of Congress, in Massive Consolation Prize

476775033-former-internal-revenue-service-official-lois-lerner
Contemning Congress.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Three hundred and sixty-two days have passed since the start of the scandal that reinvigorated the conservative base. It was on May 10, 2013, that Lois Lerner, who oversaw tax-exempt groups at the IRS, said at the American Bar Association that groups with conservative designations in their names were slow-walked for exemption. This was a reaction to an upcoming inspector general report on the practice, which had been requested months earlier by Republicans.

My point is that it took an awfully long time to get to here.

On a 231 to 187 vote, the House approved a contempt citation against Lois G. Lerner, whose admission last year that the tax-enforcement agency had targeted conservative groups infuriated lawmakers in both parties, led to an overhaul of the IRS and Lerner's eventual retirement from government service.
Now the matter will be referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. The contempt charge will then be referred to a grand jury for further review.
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Six Democrats (five in tough races, one retiring) voted with every Republican, and 30 Democrats voted for a bill that asks (but cannot command) the DOJ to create a special counsel to investigate the IRS story. (Yes, that House investigation has petered out, but the story has slowly metastisized, and Republicans now want to find out whether the IRS might have illegally communicated with the FEC in the process of vetting third-party applications.)

Speaking of the DOJ—we know who runs that, right? Yes, it's Attorney General Eric Holder, who was himself held in contempt of Congress almost two years ago, after he was accused of being unforthcoming and withholding information that pertained to the Fast and Furious scandal. Nothing ever came of that vote, in part because the case would need to be brought by the DOJ. Holder still runs the DOJ. Lerner is actually out of the IRS. The long tail of the outrage (the Lerner one), as John Boehner explained today, is that "no one has been fired" for any iteration of the scandal.

So: "House holds IRS figure in contempt" is a fantastic headline. It's also a reminder of how slowly the Republican investigations are moving, and how far they've landed from the White House itself.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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