Republican leaders of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee are objecting to a decision by the Department of Justice not to bring criminal charges against Lois Lerner, the former director of the Internal Revenue Service’s Exempt Organizations unit, over accusations that she improperly prevented conservative organizations from getting tax-exempt status.

Lerner admitted in 2013 that her unit had given special scrutiny to applications from groups with terms like “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their names, not long before the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration was set to release a report with similar revelations. Conservative groups accused her and other IRS officials of trying to influence the 2012 election by holding up applications for 501(c)4 tax-exempt status from some organizations that were raising funds ahead of the election.

The resulting scandal led to the ouster of Lerner and resignations of several other top IRS officials. The Justice Department conducted a criminal investigation and wrote in an October 2015 letter to the House Ways and Means Committee that its investigation had not uncovered evidence of criminal intent by any IRS official. However, it acknowledged uncovering evidence of substantial mismanagement at the IRS and the mishandling of tax-exempt applications disproportionately impacted applicants affiliated with Tea Party groups and similar organizations.

Former IRS exempt organizations director Lois Lerner during a 2013 congressional hearing
Former IRS exempt organizations director Lois Lerner during a 2013 congressional hearing Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

Republicans had hoped the Trump administration and a Justice Department run by Attorney General Jeff Sessions would change course and pursue criminal charges. But Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd sent a letter last Friday to Ways and Means Committee leaders informing them that after reviewing the investigation this year with attorneys who had recently joined the department and who had no prior involvement in the Lerner case, it still does not believe the evidence warrants criminal charges. “After this process, the Department determined that reopening the criminal investigation would not be appropriate based on the available evidence,” said Boyd.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady,” R-Texas, protested the decision. “This is a terrible decision,” he said in a statement. “It sends the message that the same legal, ethical and Constitutional standards we all live by do not apply to Washington political appointees—who will now have the green light to target Americans for their political beliefs and mislead investigators without ever being held accountable for their lawlessness. Not only has the Department of Justice chosen not to hold Lois Lerner criminally liable for obstructing an official investigation by the Inspector General, the Department continues to defend the Internal Revenue Service’s unconstitutional actions against taxpayers in ongoing civil litigation.”

House Ways and Means Tax Policy Subcommittee chairman Peter Roskam, R-Ill., also registered his objection. “The decision not to prosecute Lois Lerner is a miscarriage of justice,” he said in a statement. “On top of Ms. Lerner’s actions against taxpayers—denying tax-exempt status to groups for political gain and failing to protect taxpayer information—the Department’s response blatantly ignores our most troubling finding: that Ms. Lerner intentionally misled federal investigators in a flagrant violation of the law. This is unacceptable and Ms. Lerner must be held accountable. Our democracy is injured when those who taxpayers entrust with great authority ignore the law to advance their own political agenda without repercussion.”

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Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.