Issa will recall IRS official who refused to answer questions
May 23rd, 2013
11:55 AM ET
9 years ago

Issa will recall IRS official who refused to answer questions

(CNN) – A top Internal Revenue Service official who declared Wednesday she hadn't broken the law – and then refused to answer lawmaker questions – will be called to appear again in front of a congressional oversight panel, a spokesman for the committee's chairman said Thursday.

Lois Lerner, who oversees the IRS division responsible for tax exempt organizations, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination Wednesday at a Capitol Hill hearing meant to probe the tax agency's admitted targeting of conservative groups.

But before she clammed up, Lerner declared, "I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws."

Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, initially dismissed Lerner, despite protestations from Republicans on the panel who said she waived her Fifth Amendment rights with her opening statement.

At the end of the session, Issa announced he was not formally adjourning the hearing in order to consider whether to bring Lerner back.

On Thursday, an Oversight Committee spokesman said Lerner would be compelled to re-appear.

"After consulting with counsel, Chairman Issa has concluded that Ms. Lerner's 5th amendment assertion is no longer valid. She remains under subpoena, the Committee is looking at recalling her for testimony," Issa spokesman Ali Ahmad wrote. The exact time when Lerner will be required to come before the committee has yet to be determined.

Issa's office declined to explain what his counsel's legal basis was for deciding that her Fifth Amendment assertion is no longer valid.

In a survey of constitutional lawyers, most disagreed with Issa's conclusion that Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment right by declaring her innocence.

"One can invoke the Fifth Amendment at any time. Giving a preamble or any kind of statement doesn't void that," said Gloria J. Browne-Marshall an associate professor who teaches constitutional law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "Now does it look suspicious? Yes. Does it undermine the person's credibility? Yes."

CNN's Halimah Abdullah contributed to this report.

Filed under: Darrell Issa • IRS
soundoff (273 Responses)
  1. Just a thought

    I feel like the whole tax exempt division should go away. Look at any of the tax exempt organizations and their "directors" make a better living than most of us. Plus when a tax exempt organization can only put 50 cents for every dollar given to use, some one is being profitable. Tax the churches, the watchdog groups, the political parties, all of them. Then take on the corporations and get into their profits a little deeper.

    May 23, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  2. Gopherit

    The U.S. Congress is not the country's judicial system. The Constitution guarantees the separation of powers. Lerner is not supposed to be on trial. The underlying reason for Congress being able to conduct investigations is so that information can be gathered which would be used to initiate legislation. Unfortunately Congress has a pathetic track record in this process. Hearings regarding hot-button issues become platforms for political grandstanding on the part of Congressional committee members. One consequence of that is that the supposed investigators attempt to assume almost Gestapo-like powers and the hearings can become unsubstantiated witch hunts, as during the McCarthy hearings about citizens' alleged involvement in the Communist Party.

    May 23, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  3. Floyd from Illinois

    If Issa pushes this, it's going to court. And he'll wind up looking like a fool.

    For his sake, I hope he realizes it.

    May 23, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  4. LesleeM

    If you have nothing wrong, how can you incriminate yourself?

    May 23, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  5. Steve

    Fire her now Mr. President. Would be the right message to show you mean business when you promised transparency in your Administration. It would send a clear signal to the other members and the American people at large. It is your opportunity to be a leader and show us we can trust your promises.

    May 23, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  6. Jack

    As I understand it, her opening statement didn't completely waive her 5th amendment rights, but it did waive with regard to her opening statement. In other words, she now must answer questions regarding anything she spoke about during her testimony. She would not have to answer any other questions on any subjects that she did not raise during her testimony.

    May 23, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  7. QS

    Man, conservatives really do hate it when other people actually get to have rights of their own, don't they! LMAO!

    This "scandal" was at one point something that should have garnered some attention and had some mistakes and problems addressed, true. But what conservatives are doing is so blatant and obvious that it can only illustrate one thing – they don't care about the actual mistakes made as much as they care about pinning it on Obama somehow.

    I see right through conservatives when they are "outraged" about anything.

    How do you know you're walking into a conservative's house? There is a torch and pitchfork right next to the front door for easy access, which is helpful since they get used so never want to find yourself as a conservative missing out on the latest witch hunt because you were digging through your closet looking for your pitchfork!

    May 23, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC

    from the article:

    Issa's office declined to explain what his counsel's legal basis was for deciding that her Fifth Amendment assertion is no longer valid.
    Because they can't explain it. Not without making himself look like a tyrant. And the same goes for the rest of them.

    May 23, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  9. w l jones

    In law and in real life there public statement and there private for those need to know if she were a man the general elector never woulder herald of this story.

    May 23, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  10. Voice of Reason

    "...Chairman Issa has concluded that Ms. Lerner's 5th amendment assertion is no longer valid..."

    You cannot simply revoke the bill of rights. Even if Congressman Issa feels like he missed out on his chance to get some good, hearty McCarthy-ish sound bites in, he still cant simply say, 'No 5th amendment for you'. They cannot put this woman in jail for contempt – she is asserting a constitutional right.

    So the circus continues, and they'll reel her back in, so she can clearly and politely tell them (again) that she isn't going to participate in their kangaroo court.

    May 23, 2013 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  11. rick freeman

    She should be suspended until all allegations are settled, this is not a person who needs to be in charge of the most powerful organization in the administration, and when I say most powerful I say it because they have the ability to turn your and my lives upside down and collect money at will

    May 23, 2013 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  12. Bubba Ray

    You will continue to testify until you tell us what we want to hear.

    May 23, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  13. Wake up People!

    Add me too Sly and Dominican Mama. I'm confused. I thought it was the job of the IRS to make sure these groups qualify for tax exempt status. I'm no expert so I could be wrong.....

    May 23, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  14. Bill Clay

    Saying that you did nothing wrong is not a waiver of your Constitutional rights. It's amazing how all these Constitutional loving conservative patriots have absolutely no idea how the Constitution actually works.

    May 23, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  15. Rudy NYC


    As I understand it, her opening statement didn't completely waive her 5th amendment rights, but it did waive with regard to her opening statement. In other words, she now must answer questions regarding anything she spoke about during her testimony. She would not have to answer any other questions on any subjects that she did not raise during her testimony.
    You're repeating the disinformation that's being peddled by the hyper right wing media. They're wrong. Not only are they wrong, but they know that they are wrong. Even Issa could not offer an explanation as to why her 5th Amendment rights were "waived".

    May 23, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  16. just sayin

    Now, the question long will CNN hold off on reporting on the emails the House Oversight Committee released today showing that the short-cuts being characterized as "targeting" were in fact developed by low-level staffers?

    oh so now the leftists talking points want the language changed to "short cuts"?!!!! too funny. because the ig report used the word targeting. so you are saying he doesn't know what he is talking about? again, too funny.

    May 23, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  17. Colorado

    Isn't this very similar to what Goldman Sachs did? When subpoena's were issued for them to appear before Congress, they simply said "gosh, no thanks" and no one ever appeared!! Where were the repbulicans and their outrage then? This is sooooooooooooooo fake!!

    May 23, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  18. The Real Tom Paine


    Way to Issa!

    The utter idea that this woman can go up to Congress and essentially say, "I'm not going to cooperate" and get away with it cannot stand. Hillary you old goat! You're next!

    You Dems, you can do this the easy way or the hard way. Looks like Obama is going the hard route. Her behavior casts even more questions. This woman is obviously partisan and there is no doubt that this stinks and I'm sure there's info linking her directly to the President.

    Hopefully we can get the IRS out of Odumbocare and get rid of Odumbocare all together. We get more Dem votes on this every day. It's going to stink to high heaven in 2014 and you guys think you're going to gain seats?
    Lois Lerner is a Rrepublican , appointed by GW Bush , donated 2500 to Romney in 2012 . You were referring to partisanship?

    May 23, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  19. Emskadittle

    So she will be brought for what reason, so she can plead the 5th again? and these guys are for smaller government?

    May 23, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  20. damia.savon

    It is amazing how many lawyers can be wrong. You are allowed to take the 5th to avoid making statements that could be held against you. Issa and others have made it clear that they believe criminal activity has taken place, so Lerner has the right to take the 5th. What people are forgetting is that she is not on trial. If she was in a trial and was testifying before a jury in her own defense (not just under oath) then she could not take the 5th on cross-examination. Basically you cannot try to prejudice the jury by only presenting one side of the evidence.

    However this is an investigation and as part of an investigation you can decline to make statements that can later be used as evidence against you in court. In a trial, a defendant has the option of testifying or not. When you are compelled to be present to testify then you are allowed to invoke your 5th amendment right more freely as a protection. Lerner also did not answer questions or was even asked a question. She made a statement regarding the situation and invoked her right. Since she made no statement in this circumstance that she was specifically waiving her right, then it is extremely unlikely that a court would agree that she did. Courts are very reluctant to say a person has waived their right without a formal declaration.

    Of course the entire situation is a joke. The groups in question were about a third of the number of the groups set aside for more examination. When you have a bunch of groups wanting tax-exempt status to push the issue of not paying taxes then yea more scrutiny should apply. Promoting a political viewpoint is not the same as promoting social welfare, it is just a way of circumventing the law.

    Does anyone honestly think Issa and other Republicans would care if Democratic leaning groups were allegedly being targeted? Do people really believe Issa would show such passion to defend liberals? I know I really doubt it. I do not think he or any other Republicans would even be critical of it. Even if by some weird fluke they would be critical, you know they would not try to link it to a Republican president. In the past perhaps, but this bunch is so partisan their interpretation of the law is seriously one sided.

    What I find ironic is that those who want to be "tough" on crime have long advocate profiling as a way of using resources to focus on the likely criminals while those supposedly "soft" on crime have resisted. What these IRS workers did was, essentially, profile groups for further examination based on the idea they are more likely to be in violation of the law based on the stated purpose of their group. I guess profiling should only work one way.

    May 23, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  21. RF

    Why should the IRS be different from the rest of our government? They are all a bunch of crooks and bottom dwellers feeding off the working middle class! The IRS is simply the muscle for the government thugs that have run our country into the ground. They are only soldiers doing what they are instructed to do from the top tiers of the political machine in charge.

    No big surprise here!

    May 23, 2013 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  22. Lynda/Minnesota

    Oh, my. We've gone from did she or didn't she target so and so ... to did she or didn't she perjure herself under oath by evoking her 5th amendment rights.

    What's next in your witchhunting talking points of the day, Mr. Issa?

    Not surprisingly, I am reminded of that old time "does she or doesn't she [ color her hair ] Clairol color commercial from the 60s. I suspect Darrel Issa will soon realize his little game has gotten out of control to allow this farce to continue much longer.

    May 23, 2013 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  23. Mack

    Leadership...please someone provide some least Issa is demanding accountability but who is providing the leadership to run this country? I never thought I'd say this....but Rush is right....our president is a windbag...continually on the campaign trail fighting those evil forces in Washington. We're on strike 2 with presidents and hope the next one can get it right or we're out.

    May 23, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  24. J G

    You can't invoke the 5th to defend others. You can only use to avoid incriminating yourself. If she didn't break any laws, then she can't incriminate herself by testifying and therefore should be compelled to respond under oath. She got horrible legal counsel if her legal counsel told her to plead the 5th after claiming that she had done nothing wrong and was innocent.

    May 23, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  25. Data Driven

    Conservatives: the overwhelming precedent, and understanding, of the Fifth is that it can be invoked at any time as long ax that right hasn't been waived. Saying "I'm innocent" is not a waiver of that right. "I waive my Fifth Amendment right in order to speak" is a waiver.

    A waiver equals a waiver. A waiver is not stuff that irritates you politically, conservatives.

    May 23, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
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