Is It Time for a Special Prosecutor for the IRS?

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Lois Lerner, former Internal Revenue Service official, was held in contempt of the House of Representatives on Wednesday. In a followup resolution, the House had also called on Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate claims that the IRS had unfairly discriminated against conservative tax groups with audits. But just what is a special prosecutor, and how does appointing one change anything?

During Nixon’s presidency, the Watergate scandal eventually gave birth to 1978 Ethics in Government Act. Within the Act was a statute that explained the creation of the ‘Independent Counsel,’ a special prosecutor appointed by the Attorney General to investigate, well, a special case. While the title of ‘Independent Counsel’ changed to ‘Special Prosecutor’ in 1983, and the Ethics law expired in 1999, the value of the position has stayed the same. This all begs the question, why do special prosecutors even matter?

If there’s a special prosecutor, it usually means things are getting serious. Independent Counsel Leon Jaworski successfully argued against Nixon’s denial to share classified documents through the basis of executive privilege in United States v. Nixon in 1974. Morrison v. Olson had proved the appointment of a special prosecutor was a constitutional one in 1988. Then in 1998, Special Prosecutor Ken Starr would eventually be the one to uncover President Clinton’s questionable behavior with Monica Lewinsky.

So behind the House of Representatives’ action calling on the Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS, Congress’ meaning is this: we mean business.

How effective will an investigation by a special prosecutor really be? When this scandal first broke, it was thoughts that conservative groups were the only kind to be unusually audited at an alarming rate. Later news reports show that progressive groups were also targeted, throwing a wrench into the argument that the IRSe was participating in partisan discrimination.

In the end, we must be careful with predictions. The Justice Department has refused requests to set up a special prosecutor against the IRS before, and everyone will be waiting for Eric Holder’s reply to the House now that the request has come from a branch of Congress. On the other hand, maybe this is necessary to finally put the IRS controversy to rest, and the Office of the Special Prosecutor comes to deliver justice once again.

Dennis Futoryan (@dfutoryan) is an undergrad with an eye on a bright future in the federal government. Living in New York, he seeks to understand how to solve the problematic issues plaguing Gothamites, as well as educating the youngest generations on the most important issues of the day.

Featured image courtesy of [Ray Tsang via Flickr]

Dennis Futoryan
Dennis Futoryan is a 23-year old New York Law School student who has his sights set on constitutional and public interest law. Whenever he gets a chance to breathe from his law school work, Dennis can be found scouring social media and examining current events to educate others about what’s going on in our world. Contact Dennis at



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