By: Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post)
Lawmakers are expected to vote later Wednesday to hold former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress -- a long-anticipated vote that will come just a few days short of the one-year anniversary of Lerner's first apology for the tax agency's decision to improperly target and investigate conservative-leaning tax-exempt political organizations.
Congress has the authority to hold someone in contempt if the person is believed to be obstructing "the proceedings of Congress" or an inquiry by a congressional committee.
Once Lerner is held in contempt by Congress, the matter will be referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. The contempt charge will then be referred to a grand jury for further review, but it is unclear how the Justice Department will proceed. Politically, however, House
Republicans will be able to declare victory after working swiftly in the last year to investigate the matter and hold a senior IRS official accountable for the agency's decision and her unwillingness to cooperate with a congressional investigation.
If ever convicted, Lerner could face between one and 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $100,000. If she is held in contempt, she'll join more than a dozen senior government officials held in contempt by congressional committees in the last four decades for either lying to lawmakers or refusing to cooperate with congressional investigations. The list includes former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was held in contempt by the House Intelligence Committee in 1975 over refusal to share information regarding Soviet compliance with an arms agreement. Former
Labor Secretary Joseph A. Califano, former Energy secretaries Charles Duncan and James Edwards, former Attorney General Janet Reno and former White House Counsel Jack Quinn also were held in contempt by committees.
Of those officials, only five have been found in contempt by the full House. Here's a quick review of those five people and the situation that resulted in a vote by the full House: