The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia will not seek contempt charges against former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner for her refusal to testify before Congress, the Justice Department (DOJ) announced Wednesday.
It has been nearly a year since the House voted to hold Lerner in contempt in a mostly party-line vote. At the time, the charges were referred to the local U.S. attorney. The Justice Department officially informed House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, of U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen's decision in a letter sent to Boehner's office Tuesday.
"A team of experienced career prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office was assigned to carefully assess the referral. After extensive analysis, the team concluded that the House Committee followed proper procedures in notifying Ms. Lerner that it had rejected her claim of a Fifth Amendment privilege and gave her an adequate opportunity to answer the Committee's questions," the Justice Department said in a statement. "However, the team also concluded that Ms. Lerner did not waive her Fifth Amendment privilege by making general claims of innocence. The Constitution would provide Ms. Lerner with an absolute defense if she were prosecuted for contempt."
Congress' contempt vote stems from Lerner's appearances before the House Oversight Committee. At the start of one hearing in 2013, Lerner made an opening statement declaring her innocence before invoking her Fifth Amendment right. Republicans charge that by delivering her opening statement, she waived her rights against self-incrimination. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and then the full House of Representatives, voted to hold Lerner in contempt for her refusal to testify on March 5, 2014.