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Contempt: Oversight committee votes to cite IRS’s Lerner
Question of the Day
The House Oversight Committee voted along party lines Thursday to cite Lois G. Lerner for contempt of Congress, rejecting Democrats’ comparisons to McCarthy-style tactics in the 1950s and saying Congress has a right to get information about Ms. Lerner’s role in the IRS’s tea-party targeting scandal.
After a tempestuous debate, the 21-12 vote sends the contempt referral to the full House, where it will only deepen already-frayed relations between Republicans, Democrats and the White House.
“The frustration is, is that the American people have not been told the truth about what happened at the IRS,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, tying the IRS scandal to Republican investigations into the terrorist attack in Benghazi and the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation, saying in each case President Obama and his aides have stonewalled efforts to get the full story.
Democrats said the problem isn’t lack of information, but overzealous Republicans eager to take every opportunity to smear Mr. Obama.
And Ms. Lerner’s own lawyer, William W. Taylor III, predicted there’s “not a court in this country” that would uphold Republicans’ contempt citation against her.
“We are not surprised by today’s partisan contempt vote. The notion that the majority is engaged — in objective oversight or fact-finding is pure fiction,” Mr. Taylor said in a statement. “The vote is the latest event in the majority’s — never-ending effort to keep the IRS story alive through this fall’s mid-term elections.”
The contempt citation has been nearly a year in the making, after Ms. Lerner appeared before the Oversight Committee last May, soon after the IRS’s internal auditor revealed the tax-exempt division — which Ms. Lerner ran — was holding up dozens of conservative groups’ applications for nonprofit status, and had posed intrusive questions to those groups.
Ms. Lerner asserted her innocence at the hearing, but then went on to refuse to answer specific questions, arguing she was protected by her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The committee voted to reject that claim, saying her assertion of innocence amounted to a waiver of her right to remain silent. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa recalled Ms. Lerner to testify on March 5, and when she again refused to talk, he moved ahead with the contempt proceeding.
“This is not an action I take lightly,” he said. “We need Ms. Lerner’s testimony to complete our oversight work to bring the truth to the American people.”
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said he would like to see Ms. Lerner answer questions, but he said the committee was trampling on her constitutional rights.
“I am not defending the actions of Lois Lerner, but rather the protections guaranteed by the Constitution to every American,” he said, adding that he is “a little sensitive about rights” because he is the son of two sharecroppers who suffered under pre-civil rights era laws.
Mr. Cummings also compared what Mr. Issa was doing to that of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, whose pursuit of communists in the government in the 1950s has been criticized for overzealous tactics.
“I cannot cast a vote that would place me on the same page in the history books as Sen. Joseph McCarthy,” Mr. Cummings said.
The contempt proceedings are just one of the difficulties facing Ms. Lerner. On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to approve a referral to the Justice Department asking it to pursue criminal charges against Ms. Lerner. That referral, too, must go to the full House floor for a vote.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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