Lois Lerner, an IRS official who reportedly tried to stop the targeting of conservative groups in July 2011 before it surfaced again, told House investigators she did nothing wrong but will not answer their questions on Wednesday.
On advice of her counsel, Ms. Lerner said she will invoke her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent during the hearing before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
“I have not done anything wrong,” she said in an opening statement. “I have not broken any laws.”
Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican, asked Ms. Lerner to reconsider, but it didn’t work and he dismissed her from the hearing room.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican and a former federal prosecutor, objected and said the hearing should be run like a court proceeding.
“She just waived her Fifth Amendment right to privilege,” Mr. Gowdy said. “You don’t get to tell your side of the story and then not be subjected to cross-examination. That’s not the way it works.”
His remark elicited applause from the audience in the hearing room.
“Unfortunately, this is not a federal court,” Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat, said.
Ms. Lerner, director of tax-exempt organizations for the IRS, is considered a key witness because in July 2011 she directed specialists in the Cincinnati field office to broaden their criteria beyond partisan terms like “tea party,” “patriot” and “9/12,” according to an audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
IRS commissioners both past and present have denied any culpability in the scandal in recent testimony before congressional committees.