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IRS official placed on leave after declining to testify before House panel

IRS official Lois Lerner invoked the Fifth Amendment in declining to answer a House panel’s questions Wednesday.

Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

IRS official Lois Lerner invoked the Fifth Amendment in declining to answer a House panel’s questions Wednesday.

WASHINGTON — Lois Lerner, the head of the Internal Revenue Service’s division on exempt organizations, was put on administrative leave Thursday, a day after she invoked the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution and declined to testify before a House committee investigating her division’s targeting of conservative groups.

The decision came to light minutes after Senators Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona, released a letter to the new acting IRS commissioner, Danny Werfel, demanding her immediate suspension for what they said was her failure to disclose information to their Senate Permanent ­Subcommittee on Investigations.

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“Given the serious failure by Ms. Lerner to disclose to this subcommittee key information on topics that the subcommittee was investigating, we have lost confidence in her ability to fulfill her duties as director of exempt organizations at the IRS,” Levin and McCain wrote.

Lerner has been under pressure since May 10, when she delivered an awkward apology to Tea Party and other conservative groups whose applications for 501(c)(4) tax exemptions had been singled out for special scrutiny.

At that time she said she had learned of the targeting in 2012, when Tea Party groups publicly accused the IRS of mistreatment. But a Treasury inspector general’s audit released days later appeared to indicate that she knew of the effort well before then and had tried to reshape it. Lawmakers from both parties accused her of lying to them.

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