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 and declined to testify before a House committee investigating her division's targeting of conservative groups.
Lawmakers from both parties said Thursday that senior IRS officials had requested Lerner's resignation but she refused, forcing them to put her on leave instead. Whether her suspension will lead to dismissal was unclear, given civil service rules that govern federal employment.
"The IRS owes it to taxpayers to resolve her situation quickly," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa. "She shouldn't be in limbo indefinitely on the taxpayers' dime."
The move to put Lerner on leave became public minutes after Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., released a letter to new acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel, demanding Lerner's immediate suspension for what they said was her failure to disclose information to their subcommittee.
If Lerner is dismissed, she would be the third senior IRS official to lose a job in the targeting scandal. The service's acting commissioner, Steven T. Miller, was fired this month, and Lerner's supervisor, Joseph H. Grant, director of the IRS' tax exempt and government entities division, said he would retire June 3.
Lerner has been under severe pressure since May 10, when she delivered an awkward apology to tea party and other conservative groups whose applications for 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 make it clear 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.