WASHINGTON -- An Internal Revenue Service supervisor whose agents targeted conservative groups swore Wednesday she did nothing wrong, broke no laws and never lied to Congress. Then she refused to answer lawmakers' further questions, citing her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.
In one of the most electric moments since the IRS controversy erupted nearly two weeks ago, Lois Lerner unwaveringly but briefly defended herself before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. But she would say no more, citing legal advice in the face of a federal investigation.
Members of Congress have angrily complained that Lerner and other high-ranking Internal Revenue Service officials did not inform them that conservative groups were singled out, even though lawmakers repeatedly asked the IRS about it after hearing complaints from local tea party groups.
The Justice Department has launched a criminal probe of the murky events over the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns, saying it is looking into potential civil rights violations.
Top IRS officials say Lerner didn't tell them for nearly a year after she learned that agents working under her had improperly singled out conservative groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.
Yesterday, Lerner defended herself. "I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws, I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee," she said.