Justice Department officials used “prosecutorial discretion” to shelter former IRS official Lois Lerner from a grand jury after she was held in contempt of Congress.
“I believe that in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, the matter was handled and was resolved,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning.
The administration’s invocation of prosecutorial discretion has become familiar to lawmakers through the debate over President Obama’s recent series of executive orders on immigration, and it frustrates Republicans. Lynch’s answer particularly annoyed Representative Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), who led much of the investigation into the IRS’s Tea Party targeting scandal when he was chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Lynch conceded that she had not read the congressional reports finding that Lerner had “abused” conservative groups, but emphasized that Lerner’s failures were bureaucratic errors rather than potential crimes. “Our review found that the management of the process by which tax-exempt applications were handled at the IRS was characterized by mismanagement and inefficiency in numerous circumstances,” she said.
#share#Issa read Lynch the federal statute governing congressional contempt citations, which says that it “shall be [the U.S. attorney’s duty] to bring the matter before the grand jury,” but Lynch stuck by her position. “In the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, that decision was made,” she said.
“You have no respect for laws passed if you don’t like them,” Issa replied. “You think you have discretion when something says ‘shall,’ is what you’re testifying to, today.”
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.