Lois Lerner, IRS Director of Exempt Organizations, declares her innocence in the agency scandal during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on May 22, 2013. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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IRS official at center of tea party scandal retiring

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WASHINGTON -- Lois Lerner, the Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the agency's tea party scandal, is retiring, the agency confirmed Monday.

Lerner headed the IRS division that handles applications for tax-exempt status when she was placed on paid leave in May. While she was in charge, the agency acknowledged that agents improperly targeted tea party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status from 2010 to 2012.

Lerner first disclosed the targeting at a law conference in May, when she was asked a planted question about the Cincinnati IRS office's treatment of political groups. Less than two weeks later, she refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing, citing her constitutional right not to incriminate herself.

Republicans in Congress have repeatedly called for her to be fired. The IRS said in a statement that privacy laws prevented it from commenting further about an individual employee.

Lerner's revelation at the May 10 tax conference set off a firestorm at the agency. President Barack Obama forced the acting commissioner to resign and much of the agency's top leadership was replaced. Three congressional committees and the Justice Department launched investigations.

Lerner initially said the targeting was limited to agents working in a Cincinnati office. Congressional investigations have since discovered evidence that IRS officials in Washington were aware that tea party applications were being delayed for years in some cases while the groups endured sometimes burdensome scrutiny.

However, investigators have released no evidence showing that anyone outside the IRS ordered the targeting or knew it was happening.

On Monday, the IRS released a statement outlining some of the actions the agency has taken since the scandal erupted.

"Since May, the IRS has taken decisive actions to correct failures in exempt organizations management, replacing top leadership throughout the chain of command," the statement said. "In addition, IRS acting commissioner Danny Werfel created an accountability review board to fully review information to ensure proper oversight in handling personnel issues."

"The IRS is making important progress on fixing the underlying management and organizational deficiencies," the statement said. "Our goal is to restore the public's faith and trust in the tax system. We have sent nearly 400,000 pages of documents to Congress and facilitated dozens of employee interviews. We look forward to continuing to cooperate with Congress and other investigations."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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