Opposing leaders on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee lined up legal arguments Wednesday for a potential fight over whether former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner should be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before the panel.
The committee’s top Democrat, Rep.Elijah Cummings (Md.), said in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that Republicans have already botched any plans they might have for contempt actions against Lerner, who headed an IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status.
Lerner has repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment right instead of testifying about the development of controversial screening methods that the IRS used for determining which nonprofit advocacy groups deserved extra scrutiny. An inspector general determined the efforts inappropriately targeted organizations based on their policy positions.
Cummings, citing opinions from two legal experts and “Supreme Court case law,” said Republicans cannot pursue contempt charges against Lerner because of how the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), abruptly adjourned a hearing with the former official last week.