The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about the agency’s targeting of conservative groups.
The House voted 231-187 for a resolution holding Lerner in contempt. All the Republicans voted yes, along with six Democrats.
Lerner’s case will now be sent to the Justice Department, which then must decide whether to essentially prosecute Lerner in the case.
Minutes after the Lerner vote, the House passed a resolution asking the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel to probe the IRS by a vote of 250-168.
House Speaker John Boehner issued a statement following the vote saying, "It’s time for Lois Lerner to account for her actions, and if she won’t then the full force of the law should be brought to bear."
On the Democratic side, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., accused House Republicans of taking "a significant step backwards in their duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution by voting to strip an American citizen of her Fifth Amendment rights."
House GOP leaders have said Lerner’s testimony is important to fully investigate the scandal, in which IRS agents singled out Tea Party nonprofit applications for extra scrutiny.
“Thorough investigations by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee as well as the Ways and Means Committee have revealed findings that indicate that Ms. Lerner played a central role in the illegal targeting of conservative groups by the IRS,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a memo last month.
Last May, Lerner refused to answer questions at a hearing about IRS agents singling out Tea Party applications. She again refused to answer questions in March, citing her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The House Oversight Committee voted to hold Lerner in contempt last month. All Republicans voted in favor and all Democrats voted against.
Following Wednesday night's vote, the matter now goes to Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Federal law says Machen has a "duty" to bring the matter before a grand jury. But a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said it was unclear whether the duty is mandatory or discretionary. Machen was appointed to his job by President Barack Obama.
"We will carefully review the report from the speaker of the House and take whatever action is appropriate," Machen's office said in a statement.
Lerner's attorney, William Taylor, said in a statement that the vote had "nothing to do with the facts or the law." He accused lawmakers of trying to "keep the baseless IRS 'conspiracy' alive through the midterm elections."
"Ms. Lerner has not committed contempt of Congress. She did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights by proclaiming her innocence," Taylor 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."
Lerner directed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. She retired from the IRS last fall, ending a 34-year career in the federal government, including work at the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission.
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