A House of Representatives committee has met all legal requirements to schedule a vote on holding former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify in the targeting scandal, a memo from legal counsel finds.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R–Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, entered the memo from the House Counsel’s office into the record for today’s hearing featuring new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
A committee release says the new legal memo “directly refutes” claims made by ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D–Md.) and his attorney, who “erroneously concluded that the committee did not fulfill the legal requirements for a contempt vote.”
The committee is investigating evidence that Lerner and other IRS officials improperly held up the applications of conservative groups for tax-exempt status.
At today’s hearing, Issa threatened to hold Koskinen in contempt as well for not turning over emails from Lerner and three other IRS officials that the committee sought by subpoena. Koskinen replied that the process of turning over the emails could take “years, not months.”
Koskinen won confirmation as IRS commissioner in December 2013, seven months after the targeting scandal first broke.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R–Wyo.) said afterward that he had “equivocated” and “stonewalled” the committee.
“We want them sooner rather than later,” Lummis told Bill Hemmer of Fox News Channel, adding that Americans facing a looming deadline to pay their income taxes deserve to know whether the IRS “is honest and unbiased…and turns a blind eye to their politics.”
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The memo from the House Counsel’s office recalls Lerner’s decision on March 5 to again invoke her right under the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate herself by answering the committee’s questions:
First, the committee formally rejected her Fifth Amendment claims and expressly advised her of its determination (a fact that she, through her attorney, acknowledged prior to her appearance at the reconvened hearing on March 5, 2014) … Second, [Issa] advised Ms. Lerner in writing that the committee expected her to answer its questions, and advised her orally, at the reconvened hearing … that she faced the possibility of being held in contempt of Congress if she continued to decline to provide answers.
The committee release notes Lerner’s appearance to testify last May 22, when she declined to answer questions after making a voluntary opening statement. Issa adjourned that hearing, but called back Lerner to testify March 5, when she again declined to answer questions under subpoena.
UPDATE: Cummings stuck to his guns later today, releasing opinions on the issue from 25 legal authorities that he said support his stance. In a prepared statement, the Maryland Democrat said:
It is a shame that Chairman Issa rejected a simple one-week delay in obtaining Ms. Lerner’s testimony, instead choosing to move forward with these partisan and deficient contempt proceedings.”
This story was produced by The Foundry’s news team. Nothing here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Foundation.