She's a key figure in the controversy over how the agency treated conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

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WASHINGTON — Former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner will testify about the IRS handling of Tea Party cases only in exchange for an immunity agreement, her lawyer told a congressional committee Wednesday.

Until then, Lerner will not answer questions unless ordered to do so by a federal judge, her attorney said.

The response from attorney William Taylor came the day after the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ordered Lerner to reappear at a hearing next week. When Lerner appeared before the committee last May, she asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

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Lerner, the IRS's former director of Exempt Organizations, is the key figure in the controversy over how the agency treated conservative groups seeking tax exemptions. Lerner admitted at a legal conference last year that the agency improperly subjected groups to added scrutiny only because they had the words "tea party" or "patriots" in their names. She originally attributed the actions to low-level workers in Cincinnati, but those workers have since told congressional investigators that they were acting on orders from Washington.

Lerner retired from the IRS in September.

Taylor said he was "surprised" to receive the renewed summons, because he had been negotiating with committee staff as recently as Jan. 24 to provide Lerner's testimony. Lerner was even willing to provide a "proffer" — an off-the-record statement of what her testimony would be — as part of the immunity negotiations, he said.

Taylor said calling Lerner to testify knowing she would invoke the Fifth Amendment "accomplishes nothing and needlessly embarrasses the witness." He said Lerner has received recent death threats, and so recalling her is "not only improper but dangerous."

Last June, the Oversight Committee ruled by a 22-17 vote that Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights by giving an opening statement and answering a question at last May's hearing.

Follow @gregorykorte on Twitter.

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