The House Oversight Committee will vote next Thursday on whether to hold former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress, sources say.
A committee aide tells National Review Online the panel will “make an announcement on the contempt process for Lois Lerner sometime today,” and a GOP congressman confirms that committee chairman Darrell Issa has indicated the vote will take place “next week.”
Lerner has twice declined to answer questions from lawmakers about her role in the targeting of right-leaning groups. At a June hearing, the panel determined in a party-line vote that she had waived her Fifth Amendment rights by making an opening statement declaring her innocence when she appeared at hearing in May. “I have not done anything wrong,” Lerner said at the time. “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.”
When she again invoked the Fifth Amendment at a hearing last month, she opened the door to charges that she was obstructing the work of Congress.
The committee’s vote would clear the way for John Boehner to bring the issue before the full House, and he has indicated he will do so. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said, “Speaker Boehner has been clear, both publicly and privately, that if Lois Lerner does not testify fully and truthfully, she will be found in contempt of Congress.”
Contempt findings are rare. If the House ultimately holds Lerner in contempt, a statute directs the district attorney to refer the matter to a grand jury. Criminal charges could result in a jail sentence between one month and one year or a fine between $100 and $1,000.
In a prelude to next week’s vote, the Committee last month released a 141-page report making its case that Lerner’s testimony is critical to its investigation and that she has obstructed the panel’s work by providing it with inaccurate information. The report says that without Lerner’s testimony, “The committee will never be able to fully understand the IRS’s actions. Lerner has unique, firsthand knowledge of how and why” the IRS decided to scrutinize conservative applicants for tax exemption.
The panel’s vote was temporarily pushed back, sources say, when Issa tangled with ranking committee member Elijah Cummings at the end of last month’s hearing, denying his request to make a statement and ordering committee aids to turn off his microphone. At the hearing, Lerner had for the second time refused to answer questions from the panel, but most of the media coverage focused on the fireworks between the two lawmakers, who have dueled for months now as Issa has pressed to continue investigating the IRS over Cummings’s vocal objections.
The two will undoubtedly spar at next week’s hearing. Cummings has already sent a letter to Boehner arguing that Issa violated key procedural rules that preclude the committee from holding Lerner in contempt. Issa shot back a letter to Cummings and on March 25 produced a memo from the House counsel indicating that the committee has met all the legal requirements to schedule a vote to issue a contempt citation.
UPDATE: Issa has announced the hearing, saying in a statement that “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.”