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By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON—The House voted Wednesday to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for her refusal to testify about the agency’s targeting of conservative groups.

The 231-187 vote attracted just six of the most politically vulnerable Democrats. It was quickly followed by a 250-168 vote calling on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the Justice Department’s investigation of the IRS scandal.

Both marked the latest attempt by Republicans to focus attention on the controversy that erupted after it was revealed last May that a regional branch office of the IRS had been giving extra scrutiny to applications for tax-exempt status from groups identified with terms such as “tea party” or “patriot.” Last month, a House committee took the rare step of recommending criminal prosecution of Lerner for alleged actions.

“There are few government abuses more serious than using the IRS to punish American citizens for their political beliefs,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in urging the House to approve the contempt resolution.

When details of the targeting first emerged, Lerner said it was the responsibility of lower-level employees. She later invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify before Congress; she left the agency last September.

Lerner’s attorney has called it unfortunate that Republicans “put politics before a citizen’s constitutional rights.”

“Today’s vote has nothing to do with the facts or the law,” William W. Taylor III said in a statement. “Its only purpose is to keep the baseless IRS ‘conspiracy’ alive through the mid-term elections.” via Flickr

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