House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa and the committee’s ranking member, Elijah Cummings, are trading legal arguments over whether the committee can hit former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner with a citation for contempt of Congress. As the committee prepares to vote on the matter, House Democrats have been trying to villainize Issa for his treatment of Cummings at a hearing last week, calling for House speaker John Boehner to revoke his chairmanship and introducing a resolution intended to chastise him for his “offensive and disrespectful manner.”
In a letter to Cummings on Fridsay, Issa laid out the legal argument for finding Lerner in contempt. He argued that the committee made Lerner aware of its finding, in a hearing last June, that she had waived her Fifth Amendment right, and that by invoking her rights again, as she did in a hearing earlier this month, she was risking a contempt citation.
Issa’s letter comes in response to one sent on Wednesday from Cummings to Speaker Boehner invoking the opinions of two legal scholars and arguing that, in closing a hearing earlier this month, Issa made a procedural mistake that precludes the committee from holding Lerner in contempt. By adjourning the hearing without overruling Lerner’s Fifth Amendment invocation, Cummings said, the chairman, “failed to take the basic — but constitutionally required — steps necessary to hold her in contempt.”
On the basis of those claims, Issa accused Cummings in today’s letter of acting as “defense counsel for Lerner and others who acted to deprive Americans of their constitutionally-guaranteed rights” and of obstructing the committee’s oversight efforts.
Boehner, who will have to decide whether to call a House vote on holding Lerner in contempt of Congress if the Oversight Committee cites her in contempt, has made it clear where he stands. “I and the House counsel reject the premise of Mr. Cummings’s letter,” he said Thursday. “I do not agree with that analysis in any way, shape or form. I’ve made clear on more than one occasion that Ms. Lerner should either testify or be held in contempt.”