A day after the House Ways and Means committee voted to refer former IRS official Lois Lerner to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution, another committee voted to adopt a resolution recommending the House find Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before the panel.
In a strictly party-line vote, 21 Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to send the resolution to the floor for consideration by the full House. Twelve committee Democrats voted against the move.
“Today, the Oversight Committee upheld its obligation to pursue the truth about the IRS targeting of Americans because of their political beliefs,” Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said. “Our investigation has found that former IRS Exempt Organizations division Director Lois Lerner played a central role in the targeting scandal and then failed to meet her legal obligations to answer questions after she waived her right not to testify. In demanding answers and holding a powerful government official accountable for her failure to meet her legal obligations, this Committee did its job.”
Democrats contended that the committee was violating Lerner’s constitutional rights not to incriminate herself.
“I am not defending the actions of Lois Lerner, but rather the protections guaranteed by the Constitution to every American,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said. “I do not want to go back to that shameful era in which Congress tried to strip away the Constitutional rights of American citizens under the bright lights of hearings that had nothing to do with responsible oversight and everything to do with the worst kind of partisan politics.”
The committee subpoenaed Lerner to testify at a hearing on the IRS scandal last May that involved targeting conservative groups . When she appeared before the panel, she delivered a statement asserting her innocence and claimed to invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to testify. The hearing was recessed so the committee could determine if she had waived her rights by issuing a statement.
On June 28, the committee voted along partisan lines that she had waived her Fifth Amendment right by making an opening statement and could be called back to answer questions. About eight months later, Issa reconvened the May 22 hearing, but Lerner again refused to answer Committee questions and invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
If the House considers and passes the resolution, the matter would be referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who Issa believes is required by statute to take the matter before a grand jury.