Nearly a year to the day after she revealed the IRS gave inappropriate scrutiny to some groups applying for tax-exempt status, the House voted Wednesday to declare Lois G. Lerner in contempt of Congress for stymieing its investigation, sending her case to the courts for legal action.
Only six Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the citation, underscoring the deep political divisions over the way the GOP has handled its probe into her activities.
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But minutes later, more than two dozen Democrats joined Republicans to vote on a resolution asking the Justice Department to name a special prosecutor to look into the IRS targeting more broadly. That vote underscored the political danger some Democrats believe they face back home from the IRS scandal.
The request for a prosecutor is non-binding, and is likely to be dismissed by an Obama administration that has denied political motivations and argues the GOP probes are off base.
Republicans, though, said the votes sent a signal that the IRS is not above the law and that Ms. Lerner in particular must be made to answer for her role in the targeting.
“The American people are owed a government they can trust, not a government that they fear,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican. “The only way to rebuild this trust is to investigate exactly how these abuses occurred and to ensure they never happen again.”
William W. Taylor III, Ms. Lerner’s lawyer, said the vote was part of a GOP effort “to keep the baseless IRS ‘conspiracy’ alive through the mid-term elections.”
“Ms. Lerner has not committed contempt of Congress. She did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights by proclaiming her innocence,” he said. “We provided our legal analysis to the Committee and the House, and we received no response. It is unfortunate that the majority party in the House has put politics before a citizen’s constitutional rights.”
The vote on finding Ms. Lerner in contempt of Congress was 231-187. The vote on asking for a special prosecutor was 250-168.