House panel to consider contempt finding against former IRS official Lois Lerner

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee plans to consider a resolution next Thursday to hold former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions before the panel.

The Republican-controlled committee is all but assured to approve the measure.

Lerner, who headed an IRS division that reviews tax-exemption applications, has twice invoked her Fifth Amendment right instead of testifying about the agency’s targeting of certain nonprofit advocacy groups for extra scrutiny based on their names and policy positions.


Former IRS official Lois Lerner speaks on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2014. (Lauren Victoria Burke/ AP)

“Americans expect accountability and want Congress to do all it can to gather relevant evidence about what occurred and who was responsible so that this never happens again,” said committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). “Ms. Lerner’s involvement in wrongdoing and refusal to meet her legal obligations has left the committee with no alternative but to consider a contempt finding.”

The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), said last month that Republicans cannot legally pursue contempt charges against Lerner because Issa did not explicitly overrule the former official’s Fifth Amendment assertion or clearly direct her to answer the committee’s questions or face consequences.

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

Issa responded that Cummings was “wrong on the facts and the law.” He said the committee effectively overruled Lerner’s Fifth Amendment by determining — in a party-line vote — that she had waived her right by declaring innocence at the first hearing in which she declined to testify about the targeting matter.

The chairman also said that his office advised Lerner that she could face contempt charges if she refused to answer questions at a follow-up hearing in March.

The House’s general counsel issued a memo last week largely agreeing with Issa’s position. Cummings opinion is supported by 25 legal experts, including a former House attorney and three former Supreme Court clerks.  

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

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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Josh Hicks · April 3, 2014

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