Former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner (C) exercises her Fifth Amendment right not to speak about the IRS targeting investigation, March 5, 2014.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Struggling to breathe new life into an old ‘scandal’

In May 2013, former IRS official Lois Lerner was called to provide testimony on what seemed like a big deal at the time: the alleged “controversy” surrounding the Internal Revenue service. She asserted her rights under the Fifth Amendment.
In May 2014, House Republicans decided they’re really upset about it.
The House voted 231-187 on Wednesday to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before House committees, in a party line vote that drew support from a handful of Democrats. […]
Maintaining Lerner did not break any laws, her lawyer William Taylor said in a statement that “it is unfortunate that the majority party in the House has put politics before a citizen’s constitutional rights.”
In theory, the House’s complaint – which does not need Senate approval – will be referred to a prosecutor, but most see it as unlikely that Lerner’s case will be pursued as a criminal matter.
Indeed, it’s worth remembering that no American has ever been successfully prosecuted for invoking their Fifth Amendment rights before Congress. The last time Congress tried was Joe McCarthy’s witch hunts a half-century ago.
It’s quite a legacy House GOP lawmakers are living up to.
There is a certain degree of irony about the House majority taking such a dramatic step yesterday. While Republicans desperately search for ways to keep this story alive, months after the allegations of wrongdoing were discredited, every new revelation reinforces what is plainly obvious: there is no legitimate scandal here.
Indeed, the entire point of the investigation – the underlying claim that serves as the foundation for Republicans’ interest in this story in the first place – is contradicted by reality.
House Democrats issued a report Tuesday saying that none of the 39 federal officials and employees who talked to congressional investigators about the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting affair provided evidence of political motivation or White House involvement in the efforts. […]
The Democratic report includes 54 pages of excerpts from the committee’s discussions with IRS and Treasury Department employees, saying the snippets represent all of the publicly released portions of the interviews.
“None of the 39 witnesses reported any political motivation on their part, and none of the 39 witnesses reported ever observing any other individuals involved in the screening process acting on behalf of the White House or out of any political motivation,” the report said.
And just like that, Republicans’ over-heated allegations of a Nixonian White House conspiracy disappear – again.
Chances are quite good that GOP officials know all of this. Chances are equally good that they couldn’t care less – yesterday was an election-year exercise, intended to create headlines that tell voters, “IRS official held in contempt.” Even the most unhinged partisan must realize by now that this is a phony controversy, but Republicans got the headlines they wanted, and at this point, nothing else seems to matter.