Commentary Magazine


Re: Doesn’t Know Math But Can Count to Five

I need to add to what I wrote last night about Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner when I noted the irony of her decision to plead her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination when she testified before Congress today. Lerner made good on her promise to refuse to testify today, though she prefaced that with an assertion that she “did nothing wrong” and had broken no law. It’s an interesting legal question as to whether that claim constituted a waiving of her rights to avoid incriminating herself but, like House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa suggested, we’ll leave that for the lawyers to sort out.

Issa let Lerner leave the hearing without being made to repeat her refusal to testify in a sign that he wants to avoid having the committee being criticized for partisanship or grandstanding. But it’s certain that we haven’t heard the last of Lerner, nor is it likely that she will escape further scrutiny. But I should have noted in my previous post some background about her career that was provided by our colleagues at the Weekly Standard on Monday afternoon. Mark Hemingway’s piece gives the background about Lerner’s role in the political vendetta against the Christian Coalition that was pursued by the Federal Elections Commission during her time working at that agency. This is further evidence not only of the liberal bias of many of the civil servants at the IRS and other government agencies but of a possible political motivation for the targeting of Tea Party groups.

As Hemingway writes:

Lerner was appointed head of the FEC’s enforcement division in 1986 and stayed in that position until 2001. In the late 1990s, the FEC launched an onerous investigation of the Christian Coalition, ultimately costing the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours in lost work. The investigation was notable because the FEC alleged that the Christian Coalition was coordinating issue advocacy expenditures with a number of candidates for office. Aside from lacking proof this was happening, it was an open question whether the FEC had the authority to bring these charges. 

In one respect, that case had frightening parallels to the Tea Party targeting:

One of the most shocking things about the current IRS scandal is the revelation that the agency asked one religious pro-life group to detail the content of their prayers and asked clearly inappropriate questions about private religious activity. But under Lerner’s watch, inappropriate religious inquiries were a hallmark of the FEC’s interrogation of the Christian Coalition.

No one reading about that case can be surprised that some of the same shenanigans Lerner and her mates pulled at the FEC were repeated at the IRS. It also makes it difficult for anyone to claim that political prejudices were not part of the motivation for what happened at the IRS. Let’s hope Congress or a special prosecutor eventually gets to the bottom of it.