IRS official takes the Fifth

A familiar name from the IRS scandal has lawyered up and invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid House Oversight Committee testimony next Wednesday, according to the L.A. Times.  If you had Exempt Organizations Division director Lois Lerner in your office pool as the first name in this growing scandal to take the Fifth, you’re a winner:

Lois Lerner, the head of the exempt organizations division of the IRS, won???t answer questions about what she knew about the improper screening ??? or why she didn???t reveal it to Congress, according to a letter from her defense lawyer, William W. Taylor 3rd.

???She has not committed any crime or made any misrepresentation but under the circumstances she has no choice but to take this course,??? said a letter by Taylor to committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, R-Calif. The letter, sent Monday, was obtained Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times.

Taylor, a criminal defense attorney from the Washington firm of Zuckerman Spaeder, said that the Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation, and that the House committee has asked Lerner to explain why she provided ???false or misleading information??? to the committee four times last year.

Since Lerner won???t answer questions, Taylor asked that she be excused from appearing, saying that would ???have no purpose other than to embarrass or burden her.??? There was no immediate word whether the committee will grant her request.

It looks as if she won’t be excused from testifying, because House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has issued a subpoena for her testimony.  It’s not really a proper scandal until you have someone on the record refusing to answer important questions because she might incriminate herself.

Lerner was the lucky winner of a “bushel of Pinocchios” from the Washington Post fact-checker on Monday for making misleading public statements on the volume of tax exempt requests received by the IRS, having claimed that her poor little agency was swamped by applications and lost control of the approval process, when in truth there wasn’t much of an uptick in requests until after systematic discrimination against conservative groups was well under way.  She also made false statements about when she learned of these abuses of power, concealing them from Congress long after she became aware of them.

The IRS scandal exploded when Lerner rather casually admitted to discrimination against conservative groups at the American Bar Association conference, ostensibly asked by a random member of the audience.  During Senate testimony on Tuesday, Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller – the temporary appointee falsely portrayed as getting sacked by an angry President Obama over the scandal – admitted that this question was planted, in an effort to assist Lerner with damage control.  He said that Lerner herself might have prepared the question.  Miller now describes this spin-control misfire as “an incredibly bad idea.”

We also learned during a White House press briefing today that Lerner worked on her damage-control strategy with the White House, as reported by The Hill:

[White House spokesman Jay] Carney said that Mark Childress, the White House deputy chief of staff, twice spoke with officials at the Treasury Department about the strategy for revealing conservative targeting.

Childress and the Treasury officials discussed the possibility that Lois Lerner, the IRS official who oversaw the agency’s tax-exempt organization, would reveal that an inspector general’s investigation had found misconduct in a speech. They also discussed the possibility that then-acting IRS director Steve Miller could receive questions about the IG investigation in congressional testimony.

According to Carney, the officials discussed ???what [Miller] would say??? if asked about the issue.

It sounds like Lois Lerner has a lot to not talk about.