WASHINGTON – Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the heart of the scandal involving the targeting of Tea Party groups, is calling it quits and retiring. Lerner, who headed up the division in the agency that handles applications for tax-exempt status, had been placed on paid administrative leave back in May.
Calls for her dismissal came almost immediately following allegations she had participated in unfairly targeting conservative groups, which was added validity with revelations she had planted a question during a Q&A conference. The IRS confirmed on Monday that she has resigned, though it’s unclear how that decision might affect the ongoing congressional investigations into the scandal. The agency said in a written statement announcing her retirement:
Since May, the IRS has taken decisive actions to correct failures in Exempt Organizations management, replacing top leadership throughout the chain of command. Acting IRS Acting Commissioner, Danny Werfel, created an Accountability Review Board to fully review information to ensure proper oversight in handling personnel issues.
The announcement will not stop calls for a serious probe into the agency’s actions. It’s not yet clear what kind of government-paid retirement benefits Lerner might be receiving.
Rep. Darrell Issa R-CA, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said:
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.
Lerner first disclosed the IRS targeting at a May 10 tax law conference, when the question at the Q&A was planted. Lerner then infamously refused to testify at a hearing before Issa’s committee, citing her constitutional right not to incriminate herself. Three congressional committees and the Department of Justice, though, launched investigations into the IRS and its actions.
Eventually, the agency acknowledged that while she was in charge, IRS agents improperly targeted Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status from 2010-2012. Earlier this month, newly released emails surfaced that clearly support accusations against the IRS official and her role in scrutinizing Tea Party and other conservative applications. The email was released by the House Ways and Means Committee and parts were redacted.
The agency had initially tried to spin the story, claiming the unfair targeting was the work of rogue Ohio-based employees. One email dated February 2011 from Lerner said, “Tea Party Matter very dangerous” – before going on to warn that the “matter” could be used to go to court to test campaign spending limits.