Issa: Cummings ‘wrong on the facts and the law’ with Lerner contempt issue

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke).
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke).

The Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Friday accused the panel’s top Democrat of acting as “a defense counsel” for the former Internal Revenue Service official who has refused to testify at recent congressional hearings.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) issued a letter to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) challenging Cummings’s legal arguments against possible contempt proceedings for Lois Lerner. The former IRS official has repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment rights instead of answering questions about the agency’s targeting of advocacy groups based on their policy positions.

Cummings outlined his theories in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday, saying Issa failed to take the Constitutionally required steps for pursuing contempt charges. Citing independent legal analyses, Cummings said the chairman first needed to overrule Lerner’s Fifth Amendment assertion and then clearly direct her to respond to committee questions or face contempt.

MORE: Cummings says Issa killed chances for Lois Lerner contempt proceedings

Issa countered on Friday that Cummings was “wrong on the facts and the law.” He said: “Contrary to your insistence, the courts do not require the invocation by the committee of certain magic words.”

The Republican cited a 1955 Supreme Court decision in Quinn v. United States that said: “[T]he committee is not required to resort to any fixed verbal formula to indicate its disposition of the objection. So long as the witness is not forced to guess the committee’s ruling, he has no cause to complain.”  

Issa said Lerner and her attorney were well aware the panel had determined — in a party-line vote — that the former official had waived her Fifth Amendment rights by declaring innocence at one of the hearings. He also noted that his office sent a letter to Lerner’s lawyer before Lerner appeared at a March 5 hearing, stating that “because the committee explicitly rejected [Lerner's] Fifth Amendment privilege claim, I expect her to provide answers.”

In a statement on Friday, Cummings refuted the notion that has defended Lois Lerner or her actions, saying “we are defending the Constitution and the rights it guarantees to all Americans.” He also criticized Issa’s letter for not citing House counsel or “experts who support his inaccurate view of the Constitution and the law.”

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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