- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Top House Republicans signaled Wednesday that Lois G. Lerner, the former IRS official at the center at the tea party targeting scandal, will eventually have to testify or be held in contempt of Congress after she once again refused to answer lawmakers’ questions.

Called back to testify Wednesday, 10 months after she first appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Ms. Lerner again repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, thwarting Republicans’ efforts to get new information.

“My counsel has advised me that I have not waived my constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment. And on his advice, I will decline to answer any question on the subject matter of this hearing,” she told committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa.

Republicans disagreed, saying that in her first appearance last May, she professed her innocence and confirmed details for the committee before then asserting her right against self-incrimination. They said that amounted to a waiver of her rights, and they had scheduled Wednesday’s hearing to press the issue.

Mr. Issa asked 10 questions of Ms. Lerner, including whether with a week’s delay she would be prepared to testify. She refused even that one, citing her right against self-incrimination.

“Seeking the truth is the obligation of this committee. I can see no point in going further. I have no expectation that Ms. Lerner will cooperate with this committee, and therefore we stand adjourned,” he said.

Soon after the hearing wrapped up, House Speaker John A. Boehner said Ms. Lerner would likely be forced to talk.

“At some point, I believe that she has to testify, or she should be held in contempt,” he told reporters.

After Ms. Lerner’s refusals, Mr. Issa declared the rest of the hearing pointless and abruptly adjourned the meeting, cutting off the chance for Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the panel, to deliver a statement.

As Mr. Cummings tried to continue, Mr. Issa had the microphones turned off, and the two men exchanged harsh words.

It was a dramatic end to what was an otherwise anticlimactic hearing.

Republicans said they have emails that show Ms. Lerner’s role at the center of the targeting, which according to an internal audit involved asking improper questions of tea party and conservative groups, and involved delaying their applications for nonprofit status for years.

Democrats say the inappropriate questions the IRS asked were wrong, but said that after nearly a year of investigations, the GOP has uncovered no evidence that the targeting was based on political leanings or that it happened at the direction of political appointees in the Obama administration.

Ms. Lerner was the head of the IRS’ division overseeing tax-exempt organizations at the time when the agency was giving inappropriate extra scrutiny to tea party and conservative groups’ applications. She was removed from that job after the targeting was revealed, and retired from the IRS a few months later.

Top administration officials, who initially characterized the IRS’ behavior as outrageous, now say it showed bad judgment. But they argue it isn’t a sign of broader problems. President Obama in a recent interview contended that multiple investigations had not turned up a “smidgen” of corruption surrounding the IRS’ actions.

Still, the issue continues to roil Capitol Hill, particularly after the IRS proposed new rules last year cracking down on the types of activities tax-exempt groups can engage in.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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