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IRS official won’t be graduation speaker

Scandal prompts her cancellation

Lois Lerner said her agency wrongly singled out conservative groups.

Lois Lerner said her agency wrongly singled out conservative groups.

A high-ranking IRS official embroiled in a burgeoning scandal surrounding the agency’s targeting of conservative organizations has canceled her appearance as the keynote speaker at the Western New England University School of Law’s commencement ceremony, school officials said.

Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS’s tax-exempt organizations division, notified the school of her decision Wednesday, five days after she publicly acknowledged that her agency had wrongly singled out groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their name for additional scrutiny.

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Lerner also apologized, saying it was “absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive, and it was in appropriate.”

“As this event was unfolding, I think she was concerned for the amount of publicity and energy around it,” Barbara A. Moffat, a spokeswoman for the Springfield university, said. “She did not want — she was very concerned and sensitive — she did not want the attention drawn away from the graduates.”

Lerner graduated from the law school in 1978. She did not immediately respond to a message left at her office.

At a news conference Friday where she discussed the scandal, Lerner said the incorrect targeting was initiated by several low-level workers in Cleveland who demanded conservative groups supply the IRS with donor and other material in violation of agency poicy.

Steven Miller, the acting commissioner of the IRS, was forced to resign Wednesday after a Treasury Department inspector general’s report revealed that high-ranking officials were aware of the wrongdoing as early as 2011.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Department of Justice is conducting a criminal investigation into the matter.

Western New England University was relieved that Lerner chose to back out of Saturday’s graduation in Springfield, Moffat said.

“It would have been a terribly awkward situation to have to disinvite someone,” she said. “We were very grateful she came forward and said it was her choice.”

Todd Feathers can be reached at todd.feathers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ToddFeathers.

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