“I have not done anything wrong,” she said. “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.”
On the advice of counsel, she said, she would not answer further questions.
Before dismissing her, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), asked Lerner to review a transcript of an interview she gave to the Treasury Department watchdog as part of an investigation into the matter. Lerner confirmed the contents of the document but declined to answer further questions.
Issa then dismissed Lerner and her attorney against the objections of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who said that Lerner had waived her right to invoke the Fifth Amendment by making an opening statement.
“She ought to stand here and answer our questions,” he added later as people in the audience applauded.
When the hearing concluded six hours later, Issa announced that he might recall Lerner before the committee and review whether she waived her Fifth Amendment rights by giving an opening statement and answering questions about the document.
Accordingly, Issa said the hearing “stands in recess, not adjourned.”
Lerner’s attorney had informed the committee on Tuesday that she would invoke the Fifth Amendment, but committee aides said she was required to appear anyway.
Lerner was the official who revealed during a May 10 American Bar Association conference in Washington that employees in the IRS’s tax-exempt unit in Cincinnati had improperly scrutinized applications from dozens of organizations. The revelation, which came before the agency revealed the information to lawmakers or the news media, provoked bipartisan outrage and has fueled national debate about the role and reach of the federal government.
In her opening statement, Lerner noted that she has been a federal employee for 34 years, holding positions at the Justice Department, the Federal Elections Commission and the IRS. She said she became director of the IRS’s tax-exempt unit in 2006, making her responsible for a budget of almost $100 million and 900 employees, who process more than 60,000 applications for tax-exempt status annually.
“I am very proud of the work that I have done in government,” Lerner said.
Some Republicans said that Lerner’s opening statement could be interpreted as a “subject-matter waiver,” meaning she had made factual statements about the case that then opened the door for the committee to ask her for further details. But to hold her in contempt, the committee would need a federal judge to rule in favor of the move.