IRS official to plead the Fifth at congressional hearing
May 21st, 2013
04:54 PM ET
5 years ago

IRS official to plead the Fifth at congressional hearing

(CNN) – The official in charge of an embattled Internal Revenue Service division will invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a Wednesday appearance before a House oversight panel, a spokesman for the committee said.

Lois Lerner, who oversaw the IRS division handling requests for tax-exempt status, made her intentions known in a letter to the committee's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa. Lerner was the first IRS official to publically admit that the tax agency was using extra scrutiny on conservative groups applying to become tax exempt.

"The Committee has been contacted by Ms. Lerner's lawyer who stated that his client intended to invoke her 5th amendment right and refuse to answer questions," the committee's spokesman Ali Ahmad wrote in a statement. "Ms. Lerner remains under subpoena from Chairman Issa to appear at tomorrow's hearing - the Committee has a Constitutional obligation to conduct oversight. Chairman Issa remains hopeful that she will ultimately decide to testify tomorrow about her knowledge of outrageous IRS targeting of Americans for their political beliefs."

Lerner revealed during a question-and-answer session at a meeting of the American Bar Association a week and a half ago that the IRS was targeting conservative groups when assessing applications for tax exempt status. Later, officials at the agency said the question that prompted Lerner's response was planted as a way for the information to become public.

Her disclosure came days before the release of an independent inspector general's report, which indicated Lerner learned about the conservative targeting in June 2011. While she took steps to stop the practice, lawmakers want to know why she didn't notify members of Congress.

“While we respect Ms. Lerner’s use of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, we are disturbed she saw fit to trample over our First Amendment rights by harassing us and many other groups for our views,” Jenny Beth Martin, the co-Founder and national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Filed under: Darrell Issa • IRS
soundoff (282 Responses)
  1. Not Impressed

    By pleading the fifth she is basically admitting that she broke the law. I hope we find out which laws she broke and send her to jail. The larger problem is that it's virtually impossible to punish, let alone fire, a "civil servant." Maybe government employess should drop the title "civil servant" and start using a more accurate title like "unaccountable overlord."

    May 22, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  2. Secession is the Answer

    The IRS should be declared a criminal organization and all of it's employees thrown into Gitmo for violating our Constitutional rights.

    May 22, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  3. skog

    Hey CNN, how come you bury this so far down the page ? Is it okay since only conservative groups were targeted ?

    May 22, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  4. Jimbo Combo

    For all of those on this forum who thinks this is a left or right issue – get over it. It's about right and wrong. It's about an administration who is sloppy about watching what they are doing. We entrust the government with equal protection for everyone and that was violated. Plain and simple. Time for accountability and for our government to quit looking so amateur on the world front.

    May 22, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  5. Anonymous

    To the lefties who say there was no proof that the administration is wrong, think to yourself there also was no proof that Bush knew there was no WMDs in IRAQ, that he received the faulty intelligence info.

    Don't be a puppet to a political party, think for yourself. When you believe everything you are told by the political party you have no mind for yourself and don't take the time a judge a situation by merit, only by emotion.

    May 22, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  6. susanjane

    The IRS has been used for partisan attacks. The Obama administration knew about it at the very least, and did nothing. For you giggling and smirking liberals who don't see a problem with this because you aren't targeted yourselves....I don't know how you can see yourself as an American. What the IRS has done, is wrong. They know it, or they wouldn't be stonewalling, lying, and taking the 5th.

    May 22, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  7. Sniffit

    "Can you imagine what outrage there would be about this, Benghazi, and attempt to shut down the few reporters who try to report the truth, if a republican had been president. "

    Bush targeted the NAACP, unions and even a liberal church with the IRS and the MSM swept it straight under the rug along with the lies about WMD in Iraq, the outing of agent Plame, the numbers of dead innocent civilians caused by our bombings in Iraq and a whole host of other BS pulled by his administration and the GOP Congresses under him. Grow up.

    May 22, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  8. Annie

    She's pleading the 5th to avoid driving the bus on Obama. Limbs should be outraged over this abuse of power but for some reason they are so threatened that the tea patty was an right wing movement. They thought organized protest was reserved for them

    May 22, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  9. Joan

    The most sensible article I have read about this whole issue is an Opinion Piece written on CNN by Roger Colinvaux who is a Professor of Law at Catholic University of America and was a Counsel to the US Joint Committee on Taxation from 2001 to 2008. He accurately sums up the real problem and that is the status of all of these new applications for tax exemptions that resulted from the Citizens United ruling. The IRS was put into the almost impossible position of having to decide which new groups were political and who actually qualified. The Tea Party is screaming that they were " targeted" but perhaps there was good reason for them to be scrutinized. Remember how they dominated the Health Care debates with their rants. Now they are trying to discredit the IRS and tie it to health care. Is this clever or manipulative and deceptive? The country is actually recovering better than most around the world, stocks are up, housing is improving, job numbers are improving and the President is very popular. All the right can seem to do is try to bring up issues of fear and smear to try and discredit the administration. Why aren't they being called out on this obvious ploy?

    May 22, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  10. big carl

    So if I plead the 5th for nonpayment of tax and hiding my money over sea's my butt would be in jail for 5 to 10 right?? So get every person involved in this and I mean all them and hand out some jail time ! The DOJ is a joke havent done a thing in 30 years right " Ruby this guy" freaking joke and so is the High Court really Corporations are a person and allowed to buy a law maker and even a President The IRS is a sham and has way to much power they need there butt's put in place. Oh boy I just set my self up for the IRS storm troopers to investigate and incarcerate me.... men in black are coming to get me !!! Here's the government that I and all Vet's fought for GARBAGE !!!.. WE NEED A VETERANS PARTY NOW MORE THEM EVER !! get this country back from the sell outs !

    May 22, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  11. myway

    According to the fine print, 501 c 3s don't need to apply for tax exempt status unless they expect gross receipts over $5000. In any case, 501 c 3s are not allowed supporting a political candidate and are strictly limited in lobbying activities. Therefore, why would anyone apply for a 501 c 3 tax exempt status using political name themes in the first place? One potential reason could be to raise funds and break the IRS rules in using them. Therefore the added scrutiny by the IRS is somewhat justifiable. The methods they used are unfortunate and out of bounds. However, this is far from a conspiracy as some would like to believe.

    May 22, 2013 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  12. Polarized Hypocrites

    It is humorous to watch the partisan hypocrites support or rail against profiling when they are on the opposite side of other kinds of profiling.

    May 22, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  13. scarf

    It's very interesting to read the attacks on this woman for excercising her Constitutional rights. I might not agree with her actions, but the 5th Amendment is just as much a part of the Bill of Rights as the Second Amendment. This criticism of ther is nothing more than an expression of a desire for selective law enforcement, which is exactly what the IRS did in the first place. Maybe all these critics have no problem with what the IRS did, only that it did it to them.

    May 22, 2013 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  14. Just a thought

    If you are cop on a beat and you see somebody sitting at the bar drinking all afternoon saying "I don't care what the law says, I don't care what happens to other folks if I get in my car and plow over a bunch of innocent folks, I have that right to do so and NO ONE CAN STOP ME" As that cop seeing all that, wouldn't you just pull them over to see if they are legally operating their vehicles? That's what these IRS agents did. You don't like it because it holds you accountable for your words and/or government hatin' ideology. Of course you never would have tried this with lil Dubya in office because like you folks he didn't think paying taxes was something this country should do.

    May 22, 2013 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  15. El Guapo

    Congress has been asking...who knew what and when they knew it. Instead they need to focus on Who Ordered It. Rest asssured that someone in the IRS did not wake one morning and said oh, lets target Barrack Hussain's opposition. This came straing from the White House and Barrack Hussain's henchmen like the Attorney General.

    May 22, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  16. kurtinco

    This women was hired by a George W. Bush appointee. Isn't it odd how the key figures at the IRS involved in this incident to date are tied in some way to the republicans. These republicans will stop at nothing, including using their own people to target their tea party base so they could later claim that somehow the President was personally responsible. If that turns out to be the case, then I would say without hesitation we have a scandal bigger than Watergate and as usual the republicans are smack dab in the middle of it.

    May 22, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  17. mike Lake Orion Michigan

    President Obama won a rigged election in his favor with the help of the IRS holding this vital information back from the American people until after the election was over. If this information was released prior to the 2012 election I guarantee the outcome would have resulted in a Romney win.

    May 22, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  18. oldguy68

    The 5th Amendment protects one from having to testify against themselves (unless immunity is granted). It should not protect someone from being fired

    May 22, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  19. Ken

    At what point do we discuss Obama's half brother that got his tax exempt status steam rolled thru the process? His application took roughly a month to get approval where the average is closer to one year for anyone else?

    May 22, 2013 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  20. Al

    Real reasons for pleading the FIFTH. Being guilty and by the law you don't have to admit to blame. You know who above you ordered the crime to be committed and in fear of losing your job or upcoming promotion went along with the criminal act. But most of all you are guilty for you know that was what done, regardless of who ordered it done, was an abuse of power and a criminal act that would put anyone in JAIL for hopefully the rest of their lives. This was a TERRORIST act, and acted upon by the most hated Federal Office in the country, the IRS. This or future acts like this is why the tax code should be changed to a flat tax so that this abuse can never be allowed to occur ever again.

    May 22, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  21. really

    What's the big deal? It's not like they tapped the phones of journalists who reported on outright lies of the administration. Going after journalists would be as bad as Nixon.

    May 22, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  22. Rick

    They all do it. If they have something to hide, they plead the 5th. If you have nothing to hide, say so. I sure wish they had laws like England. Over there, you are guilty until proven innocent. Much harder to prove. The laws over here protect the guilty more than the victims, (us). When all is said and done, all she will get is a slap on the wrist.

    May 22, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  23. n222s

    Lets assume Barack Obama is the wisest, most honest President to ever hold office. Not trying to stir the pot, just making sure you understand this is no criticism of him.

    Assuming his greatness, he can't be everywhere! THAT is the problem. Even the best intended programs have to be administered by normal human beings. Human beings that are subject to their own biases, work habits, faults like everyone else.

    The closer the government is to us the greater chance we have to root out problems and to hold people responsible when they do bad things with their power. The gov was almost recalled in Wisconsin. EVEN IF 90% of the people turned on O, they, themselves, couldn't effect his removal of office. The closer the government is to us, the greater chance we have of holding them to account.

    Now silly, uneducated people will claim that I don't want bridges, roads and I do want people to starve. That is an argument best left for people with defective minds. There has to be a better balance with the power returned to the people whenever possible. That's all.

    May 22, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  24. bhartman36


    The reason Republicans are "forgetting" that liberal groups were targeted is because they *weren't* targeted. Some liberal groups may have gotten requests for more information, but they weren't targeted for it. Conservative organizations were singled out by keyword searches. That's the difference.

    May 22, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  25. Adventure49

    "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged." - Cardinal Richleau (1585-1642)

    I'd take the fifth too.

    May 22, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
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