(WASHINGTON) — The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed a resolution Friday finding that senior IRS official Lois Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself at a hearing last month.
Lerner, the IRS director of Exempt Organizations who is at the center of the IRS political targeting controversy, refused to answer questions from members of the committee at the May 22 hearing.
The resolution passed down party lines, 22-17. The vote on Friday means the committee’s subpoena remains in effect, although a date for Lerner’s next appearance, where she will retain the right to once again invoke her Fifth Amendment right, has not been announced.
But when Lerner read a statement aloud and authenticated a document for the record under oath, questions arose surrounding the validity of Lerner’s assertion of her Fifth Amendment. Republicans asserted those actions waived her right to refuse to testify.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the committee, pledged to look into the matter, recessing the hearing rather than adjourning it in order to preserve the committee’s ability to later compel Lerner to reappear under subpoena.
The next day, May 23, Issa, R-Calif., concluded that her Fifth Amendment assertion was invalid.
On Friday, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., emphasized that it is the Constitutional right of members on the committee to conduct oversight, but that duty is being “thwarted by a government employee.”
“Lois Lerner is in fact the poster child for thumbing her nose — a federal bureaucrat — thumbing her nose at Congress,” Mica fumed. “I’m telling you, I’ve absolutely had it with what we’ve seen.”
Mica added, “It’s not in the Constitution that there is a fourth branch that can tell us to go to hell.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, opposed the resolution and requested that Issa hold a hearing to obtain testimony from legal experts on the Fifth Amendment question.
“I want to hear Ms. Lerner’s testimony. I agree that she has information that is relevant to the Committee’s investigation,” Cummings, D-Md., said. “But we must respect the Constitutional rights of every witness who comes before the Committee, and whatever your interpretation of the law is in this instance we should all agree that this is not a responsible record to put forward because it undermines the credibility of this Committee and the legitimacy of the resolution itself.”
Republicans on the committee, however, voted down a Democratic amendment to hold a hearing prior to voting on the resolution.
“I don’t need law professors to come for a second hearing and read me the case law. There’s not going to be one additional fact uncovered at a second hearing,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said. “You don’t get to tell your side of the story and then avoid the very process that we have in this system for eliciting the truth.”
Democrats on the committee contended that the vote Friday is an example of Congress “trampling on the rights of an American citizen.”
“Case law is very clear that the fact that she made a statement does not somehow constitute a waiver,” Rep. Gerald Connelly, D-Va., said. “The record is quite clear [Lerner] intended absolutely from the beginning to invoke her Fifth Amendment and protect herself as an American citizen is entitled to do.”
If Lerner invokes the Fifth again when she is recalled before the committee, she could be found in contempt of Congress and her case could proceed to a federal court.
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