The search for a smoking gun in the Internal Revenue Service scandal took another step forward Thursday, when 17 House Republicans sent a letter to the attorney general requesting to interview a key Department of Justice official.
Led by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the GOP lawmakers want Richard Pilger, head of the Department of Justice’s election crimes branch, to explain an email he sent to then-IRS official Lois Lerner on May 8, 2013, about potential prosecutions, according to The Hill.
The letter came after the release last week of documents obtained by Judicial Watch, one of which quotes Pilger as writing an email, “I have been asked to run something by you.”
Republicans want to know who at the Justice Department wanted Pilger to meet with Lerner, who was then serving as director of the agency’s Exempt Organizations Division. GOP leaders believe Democrats were pressuring the IRS to pursue conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status and to prosecute those involved in political activities.
Lerner was placed on leave and then retired after a tea party-led brouhaha erupted. She has since been cited for contempt of Congress and is at the center of investigations into her role in the scandal.
“The fact of the May 2013 conversation does not interfere in any way with the current investigation of the IRS,” Department of Justice spokesman Peter Carr told The Wall Street Journal. “The alleged misconduct by the IRS that is currently under investigation predated that call by more than a year.”
House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., has also asked Holder to investigate whether Lerner should be prosecuted for targeting another GOP-aligned watchdog group, Crossroads GPS.
But given the attorney general’s frosty relations with Republicans, especially with Issa, no one expects the Department of Justice’s stonewalling to stop. Like the late U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin discovered during his dogged pursuit of White House culpability in the Watergate investigations, only a concerted congressional effort with national media attention could track the fingerprints of abuse of power back to the Oval Office.
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