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U.S. House votes ex-IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a resolution finding former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about her alleged role in the tax agency's tax-exempt targeting controversy.

The resolution was approved 231 to 187, mostly along party lines.

By law, an official charged with contempt by the House can be punished with a fine or jail.

Contempt of Congress charges generally are aimed at forcing officials to produce information to Congress, but legal experts have said they are very hard to enforce in court.

Lerner, the former head of the IRS's tax-exempt division, sparked a scandal in May 2013 when she publicly apologized for what she called "inappropriate" targeting of conservative political groups applying for tax-exempt status.

Republicans, who have a majority in the House of Representatives, have tried to link the White House to the IRS' conduct, but without success.

Lerner, who retired from the agency in September 2013, has denied any wrongdoing.

"Today's vote has nothing to do with the facts or the law. Its only purpose is to keep the baseless IRS 'conspiracy' alive through the mid-term elections," Lerner's lawyer, William Taylor, said in a statement.

Separately on Wednesday, the House approved a resolution calling on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS's approval process for tax-exempt groups.

(Reporting By Patrick Temple-West; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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