Commitee chairman Darrell Issa suggested he is poised to call Lois Lerner back to Capitol Hill in the wake of a House Oversight Commitee vote on Friday that found she waived her Fifth Amendment right not to testify about the IRS’s targeting of tea-party groups. “The Committee remains focused on hearing Ms. Lerner’s full and truthful testimony,” the Republican congressman said in a statement.
Lerner, the former head of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division, professed innocence before the committee in May before pleading the Fifth, setting off a debate about whether she had waived her rights.
Issa said at the commencement of Friday’s proceedings that he believed Lerner had done so. But it was South Carolina representative Trey Gowdy who went after the former IRS administrator the most aggressively. “That’s not how the Fifth Amendment works,” Gowdy said. “You’re not allowed to just say your side of the story. . . . She could have sat there and said nothing.”
Democratic congressman Gerry Connolly argued against the commitee’s finding, calling it an “egregious abuse of power” and saying it creates a dangerous precedent. Now, he argued ”any chairman — whether a Democrat or a Republican — is free to compel an American invoking their constitutional right against self-incrimination to physically appear before the Committee for no other reason than to be pilloried, delayed, embarrassed, and burdened.”
A source familiar with the Oversight Committee’s proceedings, tells National Review Online that Issa is “dubious” Lerner will testify willingly. The commitee, says the source, ”would hear any offer from Ms. Lerner or her attorney” in order to faciliate her testimony; that could include an offer of limited immunity in exchange for it.
Today’s events come on the heels of Thursday’s Ways and Means Committee hearing in which acting IRS chief Danny Werfel took heat for the conclusions in his “30-day update” on the scandal — in particular, that while management and judgment failures took place that resulted in the targeting of conservative organizations, agency employees enagaged in no intentional wrongdoing. Commitee chairman Dave Camp, who is leading the House’s investigation into the targeting scandal along with Issa, told Werfel, “This is not necessarily an initial conclusion but an incomplete one.” Camp told Werfel, “I really don’t see how you reached that.”
Werfel revealed in his testimony that he did not interview Lerner or former IRS commissers Douglas Shulman and Steven Miller before issuing his report. He also conceded that liberal groups did not face the same scrutiny as tea-party groups, a talking point advanced throughout the week by House Democrats, but was far from categorical in his statements: “I didn’t want to leave the committee with the impression that we’re not seeing diversity of political labels across the spectrum,” Werfel said of the IRS targeting. “What I’m suggesting is more analysis — significantly more analysis — is needed before we reach conclusions about what that means in terms of an IRS failure or an IRS issue.”
Camp pushed back against those assertions, telling Werfel, “The evidence only shows conservatives being systematically targeted by the IRS, not just flagged through the BOLO, but actually targeted.” But Camp, like his colleague Issa, ackowledges that “we’re in the early stages of this investigation.”
UPDATE: This has been modified since its original posting.