IRS agents were reviewing tea party groups' applications to determine the amount of political activity the groups were engaged in. Under IRS rules, groups applying for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)4 of the tax code can engage in politics but it cannot be their primary mission.
Since the revelations became public, much of the agency's leadership has been replaced and the IRS has proposed new rules for handling applications from so-called social welfare organizations.
Conservatives and some liberal groups complain that the proposed rules would further limit political activity by tax-exempt groups. The IRS has received more than 140,000 comments on the proposed rules, by far a record for any proposed regulation, the agency said.
After Lerner declined to answer questions at Wednesday's hearing, the proceedings quickly devolved into political bickering between Issa and Cummings.
Issa quickly adjourned the hearing despite attempts by Cummings to make a statement. At one point, Issa said, "Shut it down," and Cummings' microphone was turned off.
Taylor said the chaotic end to the hearing showed why Lerner didn't want to testify before the committee.
"I think she felt that what happened at the end of the hearing today was complete and utter justification for the decision that she made," Taylor said.
Lerner was placed on administrative leave last spring, a few days after she first refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing. She retired in September, ending a 34-year career in federal government.
"I don't think she feels that she did anything wrong at any step along the way but nobody in my position or hers has ever not looked back and wondered whether there wasn't something they could have done differently," Taylor said.
Issa and other Republicans on the committee say that Lerner had effectively waived her constitutional right not to testify at last year's hearing because she made an opening statement in which she said she had done nothing wrong. Technically, Wednesday's hearing was a continuation of that hearing.
Issa said the committee will consider whether to vote to hold her in contempt. Cummings said he does not believe Lerner waived her constitutional rights.
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