WASHINGTON - Summoned by Congress, a key figure in the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups plans to invoke her constitutional right against self-incrimination and decline to testify at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.
Lois Lerner heads the IRS division that singled out conservative groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns. She was subpoenaed to testify Wednesday before the House oversight committee.
But in a letter to committee leaders, Lerner's lawyer said she would refuse to testify because of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department.
Among the harsher Republican comments after the IRS targeting was revealed last week, House Speaker John Boehner said he wanted to know, "Who's going to jail over this scandal?" Lerner's Washington lawyer, William W. Taylor III, said Tuesday that his client "has not committed any crime or made any misrepresentation, but under the circumstances she has no choice but to take this course."
Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for Oversight committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the subpoena stands, raising the possibility of a public spectacle in which Lerner would decline to answer question after question.
News of her plans came on the same day the agency's former commissioner said he first learned in the spring of 2012 - in the heat of the presidential campaign - that agents had improperly targeted political groups that vehemently opposed President Barack Obama's policies.
But former Commissioner Douglas Shulman said he didn't tell higher ups in the Treasury Department and he didn't tell members of Congress.
And he wouldn't apologize for it.
"I had a partial set of facts, and I knew that the inspector general was going to be looking into it, and I knew that it was being stopped," Shulman told the Senate Finance Committee in his first public comments on the matter. "Sitting there then and sitting here today, I think I made the right decision, which is to let the inspector general get to the bottom of it, chase down all the facts and then make his findings public."
Lerner has emerged as a central figure in the controversy because she learned in June 2011 that IRS agents were singling out groups with "Tea Party" or "Patriots" in their applications for further scrutiny, according to a report by the agency's inspector general. She ordered the initial tea party criteria to be scrapped, but it later evolved to include groups that promoted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the report said.
Shulman, however, said this information wasn't relayed up the chain of command until a year later.