Poor Lois Lerner. She used to be an award-winning public servant who got "amazing ratings and bonuses." But since the IRS targeting scandal broke in 2013—when Lerner planted a question in order to preempt an inspector general’s report—she has been forced into early retirement. Her life—married to a rich attorney, living in a $2.5 million mansion, and earning a $100,000 annual pension—has become a living nightmare. In many ways, Lerner is the real victim of the IRS scandal.
That is essentially what readers are meant to take away from an exclusive THE POLITICO interview/puff piece published on Monday, in which a defiant Lerner denied any wrongdoing while refusing to address damning revelations "at the behest of her lawyers." It is the first time she has spoken publicly in 16 months.
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"I didn’t do anything wrong," Lerner said. "I’m proud of my career and the job I did for this country." She’s "not sorry" for any of her actions at the IRS. She’s a good person who, according to friends and former colleagues, "loved to talk fashion, and … ask how people were doing, not just at work, but in their personal lives." She even baked brownies on occasion.
Leaked emails have suggested that Lerner, at best, possessed a casual disdain for conservatives. THE POLITICO’s reporting goes a long way toward debunking that claim, noting that friends describe Lerner as "apolitical and fair." Lerner insisted her opinions "never affected" her work.
What about that convenient 2011 computer crash and all those deleted emails? Lerner "scoffed" at the question and denied involvement. But her answer failed to address to the most troubling aspect of the crash.
"How would I know two years ahead of time that it would be important for me to destroy emails, and if I did know that, why wouldn’t I have destroyed the other ones they keep releasing?" Lerner said.
True, her computer did crash two years before the scandal was made public, thanks to Lerner’s planted question. But congressional investigators are more interested in the fact that the crash took place about 10 days after House Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) authored a letter inquiring about IRS targeting of conservative groups. Lerner did not explain why her Blackberry was also wiped clean shortly after investigators started asking questions.
Perhaps the most sympathetic narrative that emerges from the THE POLITICO piece is one of Lerner as a brash incompetent who got in over her head, alienated her colleagues, failed to provide her subordinates with sufficient guidance, and then blamed those subordinates for not following her guidance. Friends and former colleagues described Lerner as "short-tempered," and a "stern boss" who lacked basic knowledge of tax law and IRS procedures.
Lerner is adamant that she won’t let her critics "ruin her life," which currently involved living in a $2.5 million mansion in Bethesda, Md., and collecting a $100,000 annual pension. Her husband, Michael Miles, is a partner a corporate law firm in D.C. In her own words: "I’m doing just fine."