(CNSNews.com) - The House Ways and Means Committee voted 23 to 14 today to refer former IRS official Lois Lerner to Attorney General Eric Holder for possible criminal prosecution. The vote broke along party lines.
Before the vote, in a contentious open-to-the-public hearing that lasted only few minutes, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to immediately go into a closed session to discuss the letter proposed by the committee’s majority to refer Lerner for possible criminal prosecution.
When Ranking Member Sander Levin (D.-Mich.), seeking to make a point of order, repeatedly interrupted Chairman Dave Camp’s (R.-Mich.) attempt to start a roll-call vote intended to take the committee into closed session, Camp told him: “Just chill out. What is the gentleman’s point of order?”
“No, you follow procedures, sir,” said Levin.
Camp said: “What is the gentleman’s point of order?”
“I am very chilled out,” said Levin.
“What is the gentleman’s point of order?” said Levin.
“I would ask that the motion be read again and then I want to raise a point of order,” said Levin.
Rep. Charles Boustany (R.-La.) then read the motion. “Mr. Chairman, given the sensitivities surrounding confidential taxpayer information, pursuant to House Rule 11.2(g)(1), I move that the committee go into Executive Session for consideration of referring for criminal prosecution Lois Lerner, the former IRS director of Exempt Organizations by the United States Attorney General.”
Camp then said to Levin: “The gentlemen will state his point of order.”
“There is a reference here to this confidential taxpayer information,” said Levin. “We should be able to discuss in open session whether there was a need to proceed on this path violating taxpayer confidentiality. We should be doing this in open session and not in Executive Session. That is my point of order, and I think it is a very legitimate point of order. We need to talk about, publicly, the way that the majority is proceeding, which leads to unprecedented violation of taxpayer confidentiality.”
Camp responded: “Well, the gentleman has stated his point of order, and the point of order is precisely why we are having to go into Executive Session. And, as the gentlemen well knows, this motion is non-debatable. The clerk will call the roll.”
The committee then voted to go into closed session to discuss the proposed referral of Lerner for possible criminal charges to Attorney General Eric Holder.
Lois Lerner was director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, which reviews whether groups qualify for tax-exempt status. She has twice taken the Fifth Amendment in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, first last May and then again last month.
Lerner had been called to testify about the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative organizations for heightened scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.
The issue first came to light on May 14, 2013, when the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued an audit report. That report said: “The IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention.”
The Justice Department launched an investigation of the IRS’s activities, but named a contributor to President Obama’s campaign and to the Democratic National Committee to lead the investigation. Last month, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik. Kadzik sent a letter to Sen. Ted Cruz informing Cruz that Holder had rejected the senator’s call for the Holder to appoint a special counsel.
Under a DOJ regulation, special counsel’s can be named when investigation or prosecution by DOJ would “present a conflict of interest.”