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IRS official will refuse to answer questions at U.S. House hearing

A woman walks out of the Internal Revenue Service building in New York in this May 13, 2013 photo. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
A woman walks out of the Internal Revenue Service building in New York in this May 13, 2013 photo. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lois Lerner, an Internal Revenue Service official who revealed that the agency was giving extra scrutiny to conservative groups, will assert her constitutional right not to answer questions from a congressional committee on Wednesday, her lawyer said in a letter obtained by Reuters.

"She has not committed any crime or made any misrepresentation but under the circumstances she has no choice but to take this course," Lerner's attorney, William Taylor, wrote to the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is holding hearings into the IRS scandal.

Lerner is the chief of the IRS tax-exempt unit, which has been accused of using partisan criteria to decide which groups applying for tax-exempt status should receive extra scrutiny. According to an inspector general's report, the office searched for groups with "Tea Party" or "patriots" in their names.

Taylor said he had advised Lerner to assert her Fifth Amendment right in part due to allegations made by the committee chairman, Darrell Issa, that she had provided false and misleading information to Congress.

The Fifth Amendment provides individuals with protection against self-incrimination.

According to a second document obtained by Reuters, Issa has issued a subpoena to demand that Lerner attend his panel's hearing on Wednesday, the third congressional hearing in less than a week since the scandal first erupted.

At least three congressional committees are investigating the matter.

Issa spokesman Ali Ahmad said in a statement on Tuesday: "Chairman Issa remains hopeful that she will ultimately decide to testify tomorrow about her knowledge of outrageous IRS targeting of Americans for their political beliefs."

Lerner apologized for the targeting at a tax conference on May 10, setting off a wave of criticism, congressional probes and a Justice Department investigation.

Issa, a Republican who is an aggressive critic of President Barack Obama, in a letter to Lerner last week said "it appears that you provided false or misleading information on four separate occasions last year in response to the Committee's oversight."

Taylor is a Washington-based lawyer with Zuckerman Spaeder LLP. The law firm's website cites Taylor's experience with "high-profile civil and criminal matters, often under intense media scrutiny."

He notably defended Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, against criminal charges related to a sexual assault accusation. The criminal charges were dismissed, and a related civil suit was settled.

(Reporting by Kim Dixon; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Eric Beech)

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