The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved a resolution Friday asserting that the woman at the center of the IRS scandal waived her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination when she came before the committee last month.
The 22-17 vote came after a charged meeting that cut sharply along partisan lines, with Republicans saying they deserve answers out of Lois Lerner, director of tax-exempt organizations for the IRS, and Democrats arguing that the process was being rushed through.
“Lois Lerner is in fact the poster child for … a federal bureaucrat thumbing her nose at Congress,” said Rep. John Mica, Florida Republican. “And I’m telling you, I’ve absolutely had it with what we’ve seen. … It’s not in the Constitution that there is a fourth branch [of government] that can tell us to go to hell.”
Last month, Ms. Lerner began her testimony by denying that she acted improperly and then immediately invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws,” she said. “I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”
Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, dismissed Ms. Lerner from the witness table, but Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, objected, saying that since she made a brief statement in her defense, that effectively waived her right to invoke the Fifth Amendment.
Ranking member Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat, said Friday he wants to hear from Ms. Lerner, but that he also wants a hearing with legal experts to weigh in before any votes.
“We must respect the constitutional rights of every witness who comes before this committee,” he said. “The chairman is going about this in reverse. He’s asking the committee to vote on his resolution first, without taking basic common-sense measures to help committee members, all committee members, both Republicans and Democrats, make reasoned and informed decisions.”
Ms. Lerner tried to stop the Cincinnati field office’s targeting of tea party and other right-leaning groups by directing specialists in 2011 to broaden their criteria so that it did not appear partisan, according to an audit by J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.
Yet the audit says the behavior resurfaced and had to be fixed once more in May 2012.
Ms. Lerner apologized at a May event with the American Bar Association for burdening the conservative groups from early 2010 to May 2012, an admission that set off a firestorm on Capitol Hill.
The announcement — staged through a prearranged question from the audience — was made days before the inspector general released the audit that confirmed Republican lawmakers’ suspicions in 2012 that conservative groups had been singled out.
Shortly after the committee vote, Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, called for the suspension of Sarah Hall Ingram, the former head of the IRS department for tax-exempt organizations who now is in charge of the agency’s office tasked with implementing President Obama’s health care overhaul.
“Reasonable people have legitimate doubts about the trustworthiness of the agency wholly, as well as concerns about Ms. Ingram’s previous leadership of the tax exemption department that would preclude her from being able to prudently and impartially enforce the rules and regulations of Obamacare,” Mr. Price said. “Until these questions are answered satisfactorily, Ms. Ingram’s employment at the IRS should be suspended.”
Last month, Mr. Price introduced a bill that would prevent the IRS from implementing any part of the health care law.