The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will move ahead next week with a vote to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress, after months of trying to get answers from her about the undue scrutiny the IRS put on certain groups.
Last year, Lerner appeared before the committee, gave an opening statement, and then invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination three times before being excused. She returned again last month and spoke even less, once again exercising her Fifth Amendment rights.
"Documents and testimony point to Lois Lerner as a senior IRS official responsible for conduct that deprived Americans of their rights to free speech and equal protection under our laws," committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif, said in a statement. "Americans expect accountability and want Congress to do all it can to gather relevant evidence about what occurred and who was responsible so that this never happens again. Ms. Lerner's involvement in wrongdoing and refusal to meet her legal obligations has left the Committee with no alternative but to consider a contempt finding."
Democrats on the committee, however, contend that Issa's handling of past hearings nullifies his ability to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress.
After consulting with lawyers, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the committee, asserted in a letter to Issa that the conditions for a contempt prosecution were not met. After Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment rights, Issa should have told warned her of the risks of non-compliance, according to the lawyers who advised the Democrats. However, after Lerner refused to talk last month, Issa to abruptly end the hearing, without deferring to Cummings, saying that "we're adjourned. Close it down."