House lawyer: IRS’s Lerner can be held in contempt

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The House’s chief counsel has concluded that that Lois G. Lerner, the former employee at the center of the IRS targeting scandal, can still be cited for contempt of Congress, according to a memo released Wednesday.

In the 22-page memo, the lawyers said they believe Ms. Lerner was aware of her obligation to answer questions and yet refused to testify even after being called back a second time. She was also warned by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa that she could face contempt proceedings if she refused again.


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The memo could help bolster Republicans’ case as they pursue Ms. Lerner. House Speaker John A. Boehner has said she should testify or face contempt, and a number of House Republicans want to see that happen.

Republicans asked for the counsel’s memo in reply to another legal memo from the Congressional Research Service that argued Republicans had squandered their chance to hold Ms. Lerner in contempt because of the way Mr. Issa handled her appearances last May and again earlier this month.

GOP lawmakers contend Ms. Lerner was a key person in ordering the targeting of tea party and conservative groups, which saw the tax agency ask invasive questions and delay applications for nonprofit status — oftentimes for years.

At both hearings where she has appeared, Ms. Lerner has invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Democrats on the Oversight Committee countered the House counsel’s memo with a packet of two dozen memos and quotes from legal experts who said the way Mr. Issa ran the hearing earlier this month compromised his chances of making a contempt case stick.

The experts said that Mr. Issa never expressly told Ms. Lerner the committee rejected her claims of privilege, so she was not properly warned of the consequences of not testifying.

They said by adjourning the March hearing without Mr. Issa overruling her claims of privilege, the GOP lost its chance at pursuing contempt charges.

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