WASHINGTON (AP) — Neither Lois Lerner nor any other IRS official will face criminal charges in the political controversy over the processing of applications for tax-exempt status, the Justice Department announced Friday.
The decision closes a two-year investigation into accusations that stoked outrage among Republicans in Congress, who alleged bias in the tax agency’s treatment of conservative and tea party groups.
In a letter notifying members of Congress of its decision, the Justice Department said that while investigators had found “mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia,” there was no evidence that any IRS employee had targeted a political group based on its viewpoints or obstructed justice.
“We found no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution,” the letter stated.
A firestorm erupted more than two years ago with the release of an inspector general’s audit that said IRS agents had improperly singled out tea party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny during the 2010 and 2012 elections. The disclosure set off investigations by the Justice Department and multiple congressional committees, and Republicans routinely pressed FBI and Justice Department officials for updates on the probe — as recently as Thursday — during their visits to Capitol Hill.
Lerner, who headed the division that processes applications for tax-exempt status at the time and has since retired, became the public face of the controversy. She was held in contempt of Congress by the House of Representatives after she refused to answer questions at two House Oversight Committee hearings.
Federal investigators repeatedly interviewed Lerner and looked into whether she should face charges, particularly after the discovery of emails from her personal IRS account that “expressed her personal political views,” according to the Justice Department letter.
But prosecutors said none of the IRS employees they interviewed suggested that Lerner discriminated against conservatives while on the job. They said that while she used poor judgment to use her IRS account for personal messages, there was no evidence that Lerner had “exercised her decision-making authority in a partisan manner generally.”
Her attorney, William Taylor, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.