A former U.S. tax official summoned by Congress is continuing to refuse to answer questions about government agents targeting conservative political groups to see if they were complying with the country's tax laws.
For more than a year, congressional Republicans opposed to the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama have been looking at the actions of officials at the Internal Revenue Service, the country's politically independent tax agency. During the lead-up to the 2010 and 2012 elections, the IRS looked extensively at the political activities of conservative groups like the Tea Party organizations opposed to Obama's re-election, but virtually ignored the actions of liberal groups supporting him.
Republican lawmakers have been asking for details of the case from Lois Lerner, the IRS official who headed the targeted investigations.
Lerner, who has since retired, invoked her constitutional right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing last year, instead issuing a statement about her actions.
By issuing the statement, Republicans say she gave up her right to refuse to answer their questions about whether higher-up officials in Obama's administration might have called for the investigation of conservative groups.
However, Lerner again refused answer the lawmakers' questions on Wednesday. Republicans in Congress could grant her immunity from criminal prosecution in the case to force her to testify, but they have not done so.
Since the investigation started, key IRS officials have been replaced and the Obama administration says policies have been adopted to prevent a similar targeted investigation in the future.
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, whose agency oversees the IRS, said at a separate hearing Wednesday that the investigation of the conservative groups was a mistake, but not malicious.
"We are committed to running the best IRS that we can possibly run," said Lew. "I'm equally convinced that there was not any kind of malicious action there. It was bad judgment and that bad judgment is unacceptable."