Unofficial transcript of raucous House hearing

Wednesday’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing became a raucous affair when Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) tried to silence the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), by having his microphone shut off. 

The video of the hearing on the committee’s Web site at first included the portion of the hearing when Cummings continued speaking after Issa had adjourned the session. That portion was later removed.

“The portion of yesterday’s events after the adjournment was not part of the official proceeding,” said Issa spokesman Frederick R. Hill. Cummings, however, began speaking before Issa struck the gavel to adjourn the hearing.

This is an unofficial transcript of the hearing, including the portion edited from the video, courtesy of Federal News Service.

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA (R-CA): (Sounds gavel.) The committee will come to order. We are here today to continue a hearing that began on May 22nd, 2013, called “The IRS: Targeting Americans for Their Political Beliefs.” The purpose of the hearing is to gather facts about how and why the IRS improperly scrutinized certain organizations that applied for tax-exempt status.

Today we have recalled Ms. Lois Lerner, the former director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS. Ms. Lerner appeared for the May 22nd, 2013 hearing under a subpoena, and that subpoena remains in effect.

Before we resume our questioning, I’m going to briefly state for the record a few developments that have occurred since the hearing began nine months ago. These are important for the record and for Ms. Lerner to know and understand. On May 22nd, 2013, after being sworn in at the start of the hearing, Ms. Lerner made a voluntary statement under oath discussing her position at the IRS and professing her innocence. Ms. Lerner did not provide the committee with any advanced notification of her intention to make such a statement during her self-selected and entirely voluntary statement. Ms. Lerner spoke in detail about core issues under consideration at the hearing when she stated: I have not done anything wrong, I have not broken any laws, I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.

Ms. Lerner then stated her intention to invoke the Fifth Amendment, and then in response to a request by Ranking Member Cummings, she confirmed orally the authenticity of a document that was entered into the record. She subsequently reinvoked her Fifth Amendment rights in response to several questions. She then refused to provide any substantive response to those questions. At that hearing a member of the committee, Mr. Gowdy, stated that Ms. Lerner had waived her right to invoke the Fifth Amendment because she had given voluntary statement professing her innocence.

I temporarily excused Ms. Lerner from the hearing and subsequently recessed the hearing to consider whether Ms. Lerner had in fact waived her Fifth Amendment rights. Meanwhile, the committee’s investigation proceeded without Ms. Lerner’s testimony.

To date, we have conducted 33 bipartisan transcribed interviews of witnesses from the IRS. We have heard witnesses’ testimony during five committee and subcommittee hearings. Because the IRS has not fully cooperated with the committee’s investigation, I have issued three subpoenas for documents. The IRS continues to withhold some of Ms. Lerner’s emails from the committee. Documents and testimony show that Ms. Lerner is uniquely positioned to provide testimony that will help the committee better understand how and why the IRS targeted conservative groups.

At a business meeting on June 28th, 2013, the committee approved a resolution rejecting Ms. Lerner’s claim of Fifth Amendment privilege based on her waiver at the May 22nd, 2013. After that vote, having made the determination that Ms. Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights, the committee recalled her to appear today to answer questions pursuant to rules.

The committee voted and found that Ms. Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights by making a statement on May 22nd, 2013, and additionally by affirming documents after making a statement of Fifth Amendment rights. If Ms. Lerner continues to refuse to answer questions from our members while she’s under a subpoena the committee may proceed to consider whether she should be held in contempt.

Since it has been nine and a half months since we started the hearing, I’m going to ask that Ms. Lerner please rise and take a reaffirming oath, pursuant to the committee rules. (Administers oath.) Please be seated. Let the record indicate that the witness did answer in the affirmative.

Ms. Lerner — put up slide one, please — on October 10th — on October — in October 2010, you told a Duke University group, and I quote: The Supreme Court dealt a huge blow overturning a 100-year old precedent that basically corporations couldn’t give directly to political campaigns. And everyone is up in arms because they don’t like it. The Federal Election Commission can’t do anything about it. They want the IRS to fix the problem.

Ms. Lerner, what exactly — wanted to fix the problem caused by Citizens United — what exactly does that mean?

LOIS LERNER: (Off mike.)

REP. ISSA: Would you please turn the mike on?

MS. LERNER: My counsel has advised me that I have not waived my constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment. And on his advice, I will decline to answer any question on the subject matter of this hearing.

REP. ISSA: So you’re not going to tell us who wanted to fix the problem caused by Citizens United?

MS. LERNER: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.

REP. ISSA: Ms. Lerner, in February 2011, you e-mailed your colleagues on the IRS the following: Tea party matter very dangerous. This could be the vehicle to go to court on the issue of whether Citizens United overturning the ban on corporate spending applies to tax-exempt rules. Counsel and Judy Kendall need to be on this one please. Cincy should probably NOT, all in caps, have these cases. What did you mean by Cincy should not have these cases?

MS. LERNER: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer the question.

REP. ISSA: Ms. Lerner, why would you say tea party cases were very dangerous?

MS. LERNER: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.

REP. ISSA: Ms. Lerner, in September 2010, you e-mailed your subordinates about initiating a, parentheses, (c)(4) project and wrote, we need to be cautious so that it isn’t a per se political project. Why were you worried about this being perceived as a political project?

MS. LERNER: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.

REP. ISSA: Ms. Lerner, Mike Seto, manager of EO Technical in Washington, testified that you ordered tea party cases to undergo a multitier review. He testified, and I quote, she sent me e-mails saying that when these cases need to go through — I say again — she sent me e-mail saying that when these cases need to go through multitier review — and they will eventually have to go to Ms. Kindell and the chief counsel’s office — why did you order tea party cases to undergo a multitier review?

MS. LERNER: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.

REP. ISSA: Ms. Lerner, in June 2011, you requested that Holly Paz obtain a copy of the tax-exempt application filed by Crossroads GPS so that your senior technical adviser, Judy Kindell, could review it and summarize the issues for you. Ms. Lerner, why did you want to personally order that they pull Crossroads GPS, Karl Rove’s organization’s application?

MS. LERNER: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.

REP. ISSA: Ms. Lerner, in June 2012, you were part of an email exchange that appeared to be about writing new regulations on political speech for 501(c)(4) groups and the — in parentheses, your quote, off plan in 2013. Ms. Lerner, what does off plan mean?

MS. LERNER: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.

REP. ISSA: Ms. Lerner, in February of 2014, President Obama stated that there was not a smidgen of corruption in the IRS targeting. Ms. Lerner, do you believe that there is not a smidgen of corruption in the IRS targeting of conservatives?

MS. LERNER: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.

REP. ISSA: Ms. Lerner, on Saturday, our committee’s general counsel sent an e-mail to your attorney saying, I understand that Ms. Lerner is willing to testify, and she is requesting a one-week delay in talking — (clears throat) — in talking to the chairman — (clears throat) — excuse me — in talking to the chairman, wanted to make sure that was right. Your lawyer, in response to that questions — gave a one-word e-mail response: Yes. Are you still seeking a one-week delay in order to testify?

MS. LERNER: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.

REP. ISSA: Ladies and gentlemen, seeking the truth is the obligation of this committee. I can see no point in going further. I have no expectation that Ms. Lerner will cooperate with this committee, and therefore we stand adjourned. (Sounds gavel.)

REPRESENTATIVE ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman, I have a statement. I have a procedural question, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I have a procedural question.

REP. ISSA: We’ve adjourned.

REP. CUMMINGS: Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a committee like this. You just cannot do this. This is — we’re better than that as a country. We’re better than that as a committee. I have asked for a few minutes to ask a procedural — (off mike) — what’s the big deal?

May I ask my question? May I state my statement?

REP. ISSA: You’re all free to leave. We’ve adjourned. But the gentleman may ask his question.

REP. CUMMINGS: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, I have one procedural question. And it goes to trying to help you get the information by the way that you just asked.

REP. ISSA: What is your question?

REP. CUMMINGS: I’m going — no, let me say what I have to say. I’ve listened to you for the last 15 or 20 minutes. Let me say what I have to say.

Mr. Chairman, I have one procedural —

REP. ISSA: Ms. Lerner, you’re released. You may —

REP. CUMMINGS: But first, I would like to use my time to make some brief points.

For the past year the central Republican accusation in this investigation — (off mike) —

REP. ISSA: We’re adjourned. Close it down.

REP. CUMMINGS: — collusion directed by or on behalf of the White House. Before our committee there is a single document —

REP. ISSA: Thank you.

REP. CUMMINGS: — (off mike) — interview one witness — (off mike) — national television and said that — (off mic) —

REP. ISSA: Turn it off. Turn it off.

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Shame. Shame.

REP. CUMMINGS: — this was the targeting the president’s political enemy effectively and lied about it during the election year, end of quote.

REP. ISSA: Mr. Cummings —

REP. CUMMINGS: He continued this theme — (off mike) —

REP. ISSA: — where is your question?

REP. CUMMINGS: If you will sit down and allow me to ask a question — I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this.

REP. ISSA: Well —

REP. CUMMINGS: We have — we have members over here, each who represent 700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. It is absolutely something wrong with that, and it is absolutely un-American.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hear, hear.

REP. ISSA: (Inaudible) — hearing is adjourned. I gave you the opportunity to ask a question. You have no question, Mr. Cummings.

REP. CUMMINGS: I do have a question.

REP. ISSA: I gave you an opportunity (to speak?).

REP. CUMMINGS: Mr. Chairman, what are you hiding?

REPRESENTATIVE GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): He’s taking the Fifth, Elijah. (Laughter.)​

federaldiary@washpost.com

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.
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