The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved a resolution Friday determining that IRS official Lois Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination when she made opening statements in a May hearing before refusing to answer further questions.
— Darrell Issa (@DarrellIssa) June 28, 2013
From USA Today:
A deeply divided House Oversight Committee approved a resolution Friday declaring that Lois Lerner – the IRS official at the center of a firestorm over the agency’s targeting of conservative groups – waived her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The move paves the way for the panel’s GOP majority to force Lerner to reappear before the committee.
The resolution was approved on a partisan vote, 22-17, after a heated debate that oscillated between lofty constitutional questions and bitter partisan jabs. Lerner will almost certainly not comply with any effort by the committee to compel her testimony, and the committee’s chairman did not say if or when he would recall her.
Lerner had been called to testify before the committee on May 22nd to answer questions about the IRS targeting of conservative groups, at which time she invoked her Fifth Amendment right. But Lerner first read aloud an opening statement in which she said she had done nothing wrong and had broken no laws. The fact that she read the statement – telling only her side of the story – before invoking the Fifth Amendment is what prompted Friday’s resolution. Also from USA Today:
GOP Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said at stake in Friday’s action was a question of “whether people will come and give one side of the story and not allow themselves to be cross-examined.”
“Having now considered the facts, I believe Lois Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment privileges,” Issa said in his opening statement Friday. “She did so when she chose to make a voluntary opening statement.”
Some Democrats on the committee expressed concerns about constitutional issues that they felt needed to be considered more thoroughly before voting on the resolution, according to USA Today.
Democrats on the committee noted that Lerner appeared before the committee in May under subpoena and argued that she did not waive her rights by asserting her innocence. They said the committee was considering a weighty constitutional question and the panel should hold a hearing with expert witnesses to further delve into the legal thicket before voting.
“This is first and foremost Lois Lerner, an American citizen, invoking one of the sacred privileges” afforded under the Constitution, said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.
Noting that Lerner appeared “against her will” in May, Connolly said, “The fact that she made a statement does not somehow constitute a waiver… We are trampling on the rights of an American citizen.”
Friday’s vote makes it possible for the committee to recall Lerner to testify again. It is expected that Lerner would likely invoke her Fifth Amendment privilege again, which could ultimately lead to a vote to hold her in contempt of Congress.
A contempt of Congress vote could lead to her being prosecuted in a court and subject her to a maximum $1,000 fine and potential 12-month prison sentence. Lerner is now on administrative leave and has been replaced in her post.