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Then, over the past week, Mr. Issa accused Mr. Cummings of trying to work out a secret deal with Ms. Lerner, and Mr. Cummings vehemently denied that.

The two men will likely clash again Thursday when the committee is slated to meet and consider holding Ms. Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer the committee’s questions. She has asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Mr. Cummings argues Mr. Issa botched the proceedings and tainted any contempt finding, and he is backed by more than two dozen lawyers who have issued memos or quotes saying contempt shouldn’t be invoked in this case.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cummings released a report from the Congressional Research Service arguing that there is no historical precedent for the House to find Ms. Lerner in contempt.

In the report, CRS went back to the 1950s, when then-Sen. Joseph McCarthy was investigating communists in the U.S. government. In an instance that appears to be similar to Ms. Lerner’s exchange with Mr. Issa, a witness testifying to Mr. McCarthy asserted her innocence and then refused to answer follow-ups.

A federal court upheld the woman’s right to remain silent.

“Sixty years ago, Joe McCarthy tried — and failed — to hold an American citizen in contempt after she professed her innocence and asserted her rights under the Fifth Amendment. I reject Chairman Issa’s attempts to re-create our committee in Joe McCarthy’s image, and I object to his effort to drag us back to that shameful era in which Congress tried to strip away the constitutional rights of American citizens under the bright lights of hearings that had nothing to do with responsible oversight and everything to do with the most dishonorable kind of partisan politics,” Mr. Cummings said.