The House of Representatives voted 231 to 187 Wednesday to hold former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress.
The vote came after Lerner allegedly refused to cooperate with an investigation into the IRS's targeting of would-be tax exempt groups that included the words "tea party," among other things, in their names. The investigation began in 2012 and according to a report from the House Oversight Committee found Lerner was "extensively involved" in the targeting.
Lerner formerly headed up the IRS's Exempt Organizations division but resigned in September as the controversy continued to swirl.
Earlier this year she was called to testify before a committee investigating the scandal, but invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not answer questions. House Republicans say she waived her constitutional right to plead the Fifth by making an opening statement in which she proclaimed her innocence.
Justified or not, Lerner's response to the committee prompted House Republicans to move forward with the contempt vote.
Votes against Lerner on Wednesday were mostly split along party lines, with Republicans siding against the former official. However, six Democrats crossed the aisle and also voted to hold Lerner in contempt, according to NBC News.
The House then passed a resolution calling on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS's treatment of nonprofit organizations.
Rep. Darrell Issa, who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in statement that Wednesday's vote was "a step toward a level of accountability that the Obama Administration has been unwilling to take." Issa also said Lerner "presided over an effort to deprive Americans of their rights."
Lerner's attorney blasted Wednesday's vote, telling NBC in a statement: "Today's vote has nothing to do with the facts or the law. Its only purpose is 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."
The vote comes just days shy of a year after Lerner admitted conservative groups were targeted by the IRS. At a press conference May 10, 2013, she said her employees began scrutinizing groups with conservative terms in their names as a kind of organizational "shortcut." Lerner claimed added scrutiny wasn't politically motivated, but nevertheless called it absolutely inappropriate.
Issa's statement calls the vote a legally binding action that requires a response from the Justice Department.
According to the Washington Post, Lerner could face a year in jail and $100,000 fine if the contempt vote actually leads to a criminal conviction. But before that happens, the case must be reviewed by both the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and a grand jury.
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jim Dalrymple II at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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