The Department of Justice informed House Republican leaders on Wednesday that it will not prosecute former IRS employee Lois Lerner for contempt of Congress, after she refused to testify about her role in the IRS targeting scandal.
Republicans had argued that Lerner should face criminal contempt charges, after she read a statement to Congress saying she was innocent, and then invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify any further for fear that she might incriminate herself. Many Republicans argued that in a courtroom, her reading of an opening statement would mean she waived her right to invoke the Fifth Amendment, and therefore had to answer questions afterwards.
The House responded by voting in May that Lerner was in contempt of Congress, a move that tossed the issue to the Justice Department.
But the GOP suspected that President Barack Obama's Justice Department would never follow up, and the House was told by Deputy Attorney General James Cole in July that the department had "discretion" in deciding whether to pursue charges against Lerner.
On Wednesday, the department confirmed to House Speaker John Boehner that it would not pursue the case. That decision sparked outrage among Republicans who said it proved the Department of Justice is a political tool of the White House, and not an instrument of justice.
"Once again, the Obama administration has tried to sweep IRS targeting of taxpayers for their political beliefs under the rug," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. "But unaccountable federal bureaucrats using their power to attack the First Amendment strikes at the heart of our democracy, and the American people deserve the truth."
"The White House still has the opportunity to do the right thing and appoint a special counsel to examine the IRS’ actions," he said.
Rep. Peter Roskamn (R-Ill.), who has pushed several IRS reform bills over the last few years, said the decision was a disappointment but not a surprise.
"It has long been clear that this administration has no interest in providing accountability for the innocent Americans who had their civil liberties violated by the IRS," he said.
Roskam added that the decision "in no way clears her of wrongdoing," and said the House would continue to investigate her attempts to weaponize the IRS. Lerner and other officials are accused of delaying applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups, in an effort to sway the 2012 elections.