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Former IRS official refuses to testify

Former Internal Revenue Service  official Lois Lerner spoke on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 5, 2014.

Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

Former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner spoke on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 5, 2014.

WASHINGTON — The former Internal Revenue Service official at the heart of the controversy over the agency’s targeting of conservative groups once again refused to answer questions at a House hearing Wednesday amid signs that a congressional investigation into the affair may be stalling.

Lois Lerner headed the IRS division that improperly singled out Tea Party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections. On Wednesday she was recalled to testify before the House Oversight Committee for the second time in a year.

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But just like the first time, she declined to answer questions about her involvement. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment rights at least nine times in response to questions by committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican. Later, Lerner’s lawyer told reporters she didn’t testify because ‘‘we completely lost confidence in the fairness and impartiality of the forum.’’

‘‘This matter has become polarized,’’ said the lawyer, William W. Taylor III. ‘‘It is completely partisan.”

Two other congressional committees, the Justice Department, and the IRS’s inspector general are also investigating. But none has publicly released evidence that anyone outside the IRS directed the targeting or knew about it while it was happening.

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