The House Ways and Means Committee, in 23-14 vote, has approved a criminal referral that asks the Justice Department to consider criminal prosecution of ex-IRS official Lois Lerner.

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A House committee voted Wednesday to formally ask the Justice Department to consider criminal prosecution against ex-IRS official Lois Lerner, the figure at the center of the political targeting scandal. 

The House Ways and Means Committee voted 23-14 to send the criminal referral, which accused her of "extreme bias." The vote marked an escalation in Republicans' push to confront Lerner over her role in the agency's controversial practice of singling out conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status for extra scrutiny. 

"If we don't stand up for the right of the American people, who else will?" committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said after the vote. 

A 14-page letter to Attorney General Eric Holder outlined Republicans' case against the former IRS official, saying she "may have violated multiple criminal statutes." 

The letter accused Lerner of using her position to improperly target conservative groups and deny their constitutional rights; of impeding an inspector general investigation by giving misleading statements; and of risking the disclosure of confidential taxpayer information. 

"This investigation has uncovered serious, unprecedented actions taken by Lois Lerner that deprived conservative groups of their rights under the Constitution," Camp said in a statement. "Today's action highlights specific wrongdoing for the Department of Justice to pursue. DOJ has a responsibility to act, and Lois Lerner must be held accountable." 

The Justice Department is not obligated to act on the committee's referral. But, according to the committee, if convicted on these allegations she could face up to 11 years in prison. 

The letter accused Lerner of showing "extreme bias and prejudice" in her oversight of the nonprofit sector. It specifically cited efforts to deny the conservative Crossroads GPS group's tax-exempt status application and target them for an audit, though left-leaning groups did not merit the same treatment. 

On another front, a separate committee will vote Thursday on whether to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for twice refusing to testify on the scandal. 

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, reacted this afternoon on America's News HQ. Sekulow represents 41 conservative groups who say they were singled out for extra scrutiny of their tax-exempt status applications.

Sekulow isn't expecting the DOJ to do much in response, other than say that an investigation is already ongoing. He laid out some of the "damning" information contained in the House letter to Eric Holder.

Sekulow said if Lerner is willing to accept immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying, it should be pursued.

"I am not convinced she is the sole leader involved in this. I don't think she came up with this scheme all by herself," he said. Sekulow said the House letter, which you can read here, combined with the pleadings from his clients "paints a very bad picture, probably the most succinct picture of the illegal actions taken by the IRS."

Watch his full analysis above and for more, tune in to On the Record tonight at 7p/2a ET for an interview with Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC).

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