House Oversight Republicans: IRS official Lois Lerner waived Fifth Amendment right

Internal Revenue Service Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner makes a statement during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee before refusing to testify to the committee May 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Embattled Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner will likely appear again at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, following a Republican-backed resolution concluding she waived her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Subpoenaed to testify on May 22, Lerner asserted her Fifth Amendment right to not answer questions after she said she didn't do "anything wrong" in overseeing the IRS' Cincinnati office in charge of 501(c)4 tax-exempt status applications, the site of the IRS targeting controversy. Lerner's admission of innocence qualified as testimony, Republican representatives said at an Oversight Committee meeting Friday.

Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said that after talking to congressional lawyers, he concluded that she waived her right after her initial comments at the May 22 hearing.

Witnesses called to testify at congressional hearings should not be allowed to "give one side of the story and not allow themselves to be cross-examined," Issa said.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., interpreted her silence as a sign of disrespect.

"Lois Lerner is in fact the poster child for a federal bureaucrat thumbing her nose at Congress," Mica said. "Today's a showdown for who's in control of the government."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., agreed that getting Lerner to testify is the only way to "get to the root" of the IRS targeting. But several members from both parties said they don't expect Lerner will answer questions if she's called to another committee hearing. If that's the case, Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said he expects the Republicans will hold Lerner in contempt of court, which would send her before a federal judge.

Because Lerner's opening statement at the earlier Oversight Committee hearing included several assertions about her innocence, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said allowing Lerner to share her "story" - however brief - without questioning its details would be a failure to uphold the committee's constitutional duty, Gowdy said.

"She opened the door to the subject matter," Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., said.

But Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., joined other Democrats in slamming Republicans' mechanism for getting Lerner to talk.

"I believe that if we pass this resolution we are trampling on the rights of an American citizen and that trumps the rights of everything," Connolly said during the committee meeting. "If we're not about protecting the rights of American citizens what are we about here?"

Lerner has been on administrative leave from the IRS May 23, a day after she sat at the Oversight Committee Hearing. She revealed that the agency reviewed tea party tax-exempt applications with additional scrutiny on May 10. A supplemental analysis of the targeting found IRS officials also flagged some progressive organizations for additional review, though not to the sweeping extent the tea party groups were targeted.

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