Tempers flare after Lois Lerner declines to testify about IRS targeting

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) faces off with ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) after former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner once again refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing. (The Washington Post)

A congressional hearing on the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting controversy turned into a tense affair Wednesday as former IRS official Lois Lerner declined to testify and a top Republican adjourned the meeting without input from Democrats.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked Lerner a series of questions about her role in developing the IRS’s problematic screening methods for nonprofit groups, but Lerner refused to answer.

“On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question,” the former official said repeatedly.

A frustrated Issa soon adjourned the hearing, but the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), objected after the chairman ignored his request for a chance to ask “a procedural question” first.

“Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a committee like this,” Cummings said.

With his microphone later cut off, Cummings shouted: “I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this.” He also described Issa’s investigation into the IRS matter as “one-sided” and “absolutely un-American.”

“We had a hearing,” Issa replied. “It was adjourned. I gave you an opportunity to ask your questions. You had no questions.”

Lerner, who was head of the IRS’s tax-exempt division, previously invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a hearing on the IRS controversy last year. Republicans on the committee later approved a resolution saying she waived that right by giving a brief statement during her last appearance.

The controversy stems from an inspector general’s report in May that said the IRS had inappropriately targeted certain nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny based on their policy positions. Days before the release of the audit, Lerner apologized at a legal conference for the IRS’s “absolutely inappropriate” actions toward groups with terms such as “tea party” and “patriot” in their names.

Lerner resigned from the IRS in September after an internal-review board determined that she should be removed from her position for “neglect of duties.”

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said after the hearing on Wednesday that Lerner should testify before the oversight committee or be held in contempt of Congress.

* Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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