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Lois Lerner, IRS official at center of Tea Party scandal, resigns

FILE - In this May 22, 2013 file photo, Lois Lerner, head of the IRS unit that decides whether to grant tax-exempt status to groups, listens on Capitol Hill in Washington. Lerner, the official at the center of the agencyÂ?s tea party scandal is retiring. 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. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Lois Lerner, the Obama administration official at the center of the IRS Tea Party political targeting scandal, has resigned amid a GOP probe of the controversy.

Lerner, who oversaw the agency's review of applications for tax-exempt status, had been on paid leave since May. The agency acknowledged that officials placed extra scrutiny on Tea Party and other conservative groups seeking tax exemptions.

Lerner chose to remain silent during congressional hearings on the issue.

“We can confirm today that Lois Lerner has retired,” the IRS said in a statement. “Under federal privacy rules, the IRS cannot comment further on individual employee matters.”

The IRS revelations came at a particularly difficult time for the administration as the White House also faced congressional anger over the National Security Agency’s surveillance and the Justice Department’s subpoenaing of journalists’ phone records.

Republican critics seized on the IRS disclosures, questioning when senior administration officials first learned about the targeting and what steps they took to stop it.

The scandal led to Commissioner Steven T. Miller’s resignation and his replacement by acting Commissioner Danny Werfel.

Democratic lawmakers have accused Republicans of overplaying the scandal, arguing that progressive groups were also targeted inappropriately by the IRS.

President Obama repeatedly referred to the GOP probe as a “phony scandal.”

Republicans said Lerner's retirement would not halt their probe of the IRS.

“Lois Lerner’s exit from the IRS does not alter the Oversight Committee’s interest in understanding why applicants for tax exempt status were targeted and inappropriately treated because of their political beliefs,” said Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. “We still don’t know why Lois Lerner, as a senior IRS official, had such a personal interest in directing scrutiny and why she denied improper conduct to Congress.

“Her departure does not answer these questions or diminish the Committee’s interest in hearing her testimony,” he added.

“Just because Lois Lerner is retiring from the IRS does not mean the investigation is over," said Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Far from it. In fact, there are many serious unanswered questions that must be addressed so we can get to the truth.”

The IRS on Monday trumpeted reforms they say have corrected previous examples of federal workers overstepping their authority.

“We have sent nearly 400,000 pages of documents to Congress and facilitated dozens of employee interviews,” the agency said. “We look forward to continuing to cooperate with Congress and other investigations.”

This story was first published at 3:54 p.m. and has been updated

Steve Contorno and Susan Crabtree contributed.