This morning, Lois Lerner went before a Congressional committee and invoked the Fifth amendment with regard to her role in the selection process for challenging applications for tax-exempt status.
“I have not done anything wrong,” she said. “I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations. And I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.” But on the advice of counsel, she said, she would not answer questions or testify before the committee.
Lerner is the official in charge of the tax-exempt division of the IRS. She is the top of the top of the food chain when it comes to how the agency conducted itself in the selection and treatment of applications for exemptions. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, she has managed to avoid getting the axe.
But then there’s the offense that everyone agrees did occur: A number of IRS employees developed criteria that was politically biased both in appearance and in effect. They were reined in once by their superiors, and then they changed the criteria again, and had to be reined in a second time. Their actions called the fairness of the agency into question and kicked off a national scandal. Even if their intent was pure, they showed bad judgment, more than a bit of incompetence, and perhaps even a touch of insubordination. That is reason enough to fire people, even if the process is difficult.
All of that is true, but even here, Ezra is focusing on employees and not the person who actually led the unit. Lerner's role wasn't limited to that, either. She planted a question at a conference for the express purpose of breaking the story into the public before the entire IG report was given to Congress or anyone else. That alone should be grounds for termination, but now that Stephen Miller has taken credit for that incredibly stupid idea, she is off the hook for that, too.
David Cay Johnston wrote last week that she should be fired. I agree.
That Ms. Lerner put out the news about this issue in a bizarre way, at the American Bar Association’s annual May tax law conference, is itself worthy of scrutiny. Was Lerner hoping that her ring-and-run apology five days ahead of the TIGTA audit release would escape public attention? If so, it is another sign of her incompetence.
Did Lerner plant the question that Celia Roady, the Morgan Lewis tax lawyer, asked last week? (Roady told reporters at the time the question was not planted, EO Journal publisher Paul Streckfuss told me; Roady has not responded to my requests for an interview.)
Only a person lacking a sense of honor and integrity would cling to their job in the face of the horrendous damage caused to the agency they work for, to her superiors and to the welfare of the Republic if her mistakes prompt even more IRS budget cuts.
Did we mention she's a Bush appointee?
It is utterly bizarre that the person in charge of what is usually a drama-free unit of the IRS has managed to foment so much drama.
No one in this century has done more to breed disrespect for our tax system than Lois G. Lerner, undermining the public confidence on which voluntary compliance rests.
Lerner’s resignation should be as forthright as it should be immediate. No excuses. She should make an unqualified apology that states, “I failed to do my job. I apologize for all the harm I have done. I will cooperate in every way with those who will, and should, examine every aspect of my indefensible errors in judgment.”
Anything less than that will only add to her disgrace.
Ms. Lerner, have you no decency? At long last, have you no shame?
The longer Lerner remains in her position, the more leverage she gives for this "scandal" to stay in the news. Who does that benefit, exactly? From a purely political standpoint, her actions today can only be characterized as self-serving and intended to prolong scrutiny of the very organization she claims to want to protect.
Resign, Ms. Lerner. Today.