By Ken Berry
And another one bites the dust.
The IRS announced September 24 that Lois Lerner, the embattled head of the IRS Exempt Organizations (EO) division, has officially retired. The retirement is effective immediately.
Previously, other top IRS officials, including IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller, have stepped down from their posts. Miller's replacement, Daniel Werfel, will also be leaving. President Obama has nominated John Koskinen to be the new commissioner while Werfel remains in charge temporarily.
The low-profile Lerner found herself at the forefront of the "Tea Party scandal" that has engulfed the IRS in recent months. Back in May, the IRS was accused of targeting conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status for extra scrutiny. As congressional committees began to investigate matters and the Justice Department launched a criminal probe, the IRS admitted wrongdoing within the EO division, although it's not clear yet how far up the ladder the blame goes.
When Lerner appeared at a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on May 22, she refused to fall on her sword. Instead, she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, after delivering an opening statement in her defense. That didn't sit well with the Republican leaders on the committee.
"I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations", Lerner asserted at the time. "I know that some people will assume that I have done something wrong. I have not." Subsequently, she was also accused of using her personal e-mail account for official government business.
Lerner was promptly placed on paid administrative leave after the hearing. The scuttlebutt in Washington was that an IRS board had been convened to address her dismissal. Presumably, she will be entitled to her full pension benefits by retiring.
In the meantime, the saga continues. "Just because Lois Lerner is retiring from the IRS does not mean the investigation is over", said Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, in a prepared statement. "Far from it. In fact, there are many serious unanswered questions that must be addressed so we can get to the truth."
As of yet, there has been no official comment from Lerner's camp concerning her departure. The IRS said it wouldn't elaborate any further due to federal privacy laws.