Just want to emphasize something that came up on our podcast Need to Know yesterday. If both Robert George and my husband Robert Parker (a great lawyer) agree on something, it must be worth repeating. It’s simply this: Republicans on the oversight committee should avoid a spat with Lois Lerner over whether she did or did not waive her right to invoke the Fifth Amendment.
The point of the hearings should be to get the truth — not to put anyone in particular in jail. The committee can grant Lerner “use immunity,” which means that nothing she tells the committee can be used against her in a criminal action. This serves the public interest in getting to the root of how the unconscionable targeting of Americans for their political views happened, who ordered it, who knew about it and when, and so forth.
It may turn out that some people will go to jail anyway, based on other evidence. That’s really not the main issue. Once immunity is granted, Lerner will have no alternative (short of prison) to answering the committee’s questions. Beyond that, it will be very much in the interest of Lerner and any other official who is given use immunity to spill their guts before the committee, thereby taking an immunity bath. The more she tells the committee, the more her lawyers can say is off limits from prosecution. (Recall that Oliver North’s conviction was overturned because of his congressional testimony.)
The committee should also consider hiring an experienced lawyer to ask questions of the witnesses (as Democrats have done successfully in Watergate and Iran/Contra). Congressmen are scattershot in their approach, and let’s face it, some are better than others at questioning witnesses. The five-minutes-for-each-member rule, along with alternating between parties, makes it difficult to maintain a thread. A lawyer will better illuminate inconsistent answers and contradictions, as well as guiding the witness to reveal more possibly incriminating evidence.
The committee has tremendous power if Republicans use it wisely.