Darrell Issa's Democratic counterpart: You're pulling a McCarthy in IRS case
April 9th, 2014
12:31 AM ET
9 years ago

Darrell Issa's Democratic counterpart: You're pulling a McCarthy in IRS case

(CNN) - When it comes to insults and accusations in modern politics, few things are worse than being compared to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, whose unsubstantiated accusations in the 1950s against Americans he suspected of communism are widely seen as one of the darkest times in congressional history.

Now, ahead of a House Oversight Committee vote Thursday to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt, the committee's top Democrat, Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, is accusing Chairman Darrell Issa, R-California, of engaging in McCarthyism.

And he's releasing a congressional study that he says proves it.

Cummings and fellow committee Democrats say Issa is trampling on Lerner's constitutional rights by holding her in contempt, even though she invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

Aides to Cummings provided CNN with findings from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service that cited 11 times in modern history where witnesses were prosecuted for refusing to answer committee questions after invoking their Fifth Amendment rights.

The majority of the instances were in the McCarthy era against witnesses involving alleged communist activities.

"We oppose Chairman Issa's efforts to re-create the Oversight Committee in Joe McCarthy's image, and we reject his attempts to drag us back to that shameful era in which Congress tried to strip away the constitutional rights of American citizens under the bright lights of hearings that had nothing to do with responsible oversight and everything to do with the most dishonorable kind of partisan politics," said Cummings in a report he prepared for the committee's Democratic minority.

Cummings points to the service's research that none of the cases involving witness testimony was ultimately upheld in court.

"Chairman Issa has identified no historical precedent for successfully convicting an American citizen for contempt after that person has asserted his or her Fifth Amendment right not to testify before Congress. The only other times in recent memory that Congress attempted to do this were a disgraceful stain on our nation's history," said Cummings.

Issa and fellow Republicans argue Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment privilege by professing her innocence before citing her constitutional right to refuse to answer questions.

Democrats disagree. As part of their report released to CNN, they list more than 30 legal experts who agree.

The bitter battle over Lerner's testimony and whether to hold her in contempt exploded in partisan and personal terms recently, to the point where Issa was forced to apologize to Cummings for cutting off his microphone during a committee hearing.

But Issa has not backed down and has the blessing of the House GOP leadership to go ahead with the contempt vote. Anger about allegations that the IRS unfairly targeted tea party groups roils the GOP base, and Lerner and her refusal to testify has become a potent political symbol for Republicans.

Issa says she is central in their investigation about IRS abuse and argues they can't go forward without her testimony.

Meanwhile, a second committee, the House Ways and Means, plans to hold a vote Wednesday approving a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the Justice Department to pursue criminal charges against Lerner.

A GOP source familiar with the committee's plans says the letter will accuse Lerner of improperly influencing the IRS against conservative organizations and misleading investigators.

CNN's Craig Broffman contributed to this report

Filed under: Darrell Issa • House • House of Representatives • House Republicans • IRS
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. What's in that Tea Anyway?

    This will get interesting...Ok cue the Faux and fools subscribers that will post the anti-Obama diatribe here...in 3,2,1 ...bring in the clowns LOL

    April 9, 2014 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  2. Thomas

    Ted Cruz is more like Joe McCarthy.

    Darrell Issa is more like a greasy Richard Nixon .

    April 9, 2014 01:51 am at 1:51 am |
  3. romymon

    That's nothing more than typical Democrat ploy of calling the good guys the bad ones when they are trapped and had run out of excuses. No right-thinking person would ever look at the IRS as an above board Obama lackey. Corruption in IRS of the despicable kind stares everyone in the face, but Democrats are deliberately looking at it with blindfolds! Who but Lois Lerner exposed the shenanigans in the IRS anyway? She blew the whistle then took the 5th. She should be sent to jail for obstructing justice and not just cited for contempt, which to people like her and that abominable Eric Holder, mean nothing! What a corrupt administration rules America! Voter this November should not forget any of Obama's and the Dems sins, when they go to the polls!

    April 9, 2014 02:29 am at 2:29 am |

    Issa signals GOP chances in November in the picture. They think that Americans aren't watching AGAIN.

    April 9, 2014 06:37 am at 6:37 am |
  5. J Anthony

    What a waste of time and money. Imagine if the GOP put this much effort into something productive. The IRS busts everybody's chops. Cummings is right, this is neo-McCarthyism, little more.

    April 9, 2014 06:56 am at 6:56 am |
  6. rla

    Democrats have run a corrupt government and tried to alter the constitution and senate rules along with some of the most disgraceful political slander I have ever whitnessed.. America knows this slander for what it is at this point so stop looking like fools and start doing your jobs!

    April 9, 2014 07:18 am at 7:18 am |
  7. Miami Mike

    And Cummings is not pushing his racial agenda over justice?
    The IRS already admitted to wrongdoing.

    April 9, 2014 07:19 am at 7:19 am |
  8. Gurgyl

    These GOP guys are so pathetic. Vote all of them out for the good of USA. While poorer nations are developing with infrastructure, these idiots are bickering on partisan bases.

    April 9, 2014 07:34 am at 7:34 am |
  9. Holdingmy nose

    The reason Lois Lerner does not talk is that her orders to harass the conservatives and target them came directly from the President. She and her attorneys will delay and delay and delay and then, ultimately, Obama will grant her a presidential pardon. Between the corruption at the White House and the lightly veiled cover-up by Eric Holder at the DOJ and the Democratic Congress all covering up this outrageous intrusion, is there any wonder why the people of the United States are disgusted with their government? Any wonder why they have zero faith in their leaders? Only a fool would believe in this government. A gallows should be built by the Washington Monument and our Bill Of Rights should be properly hanged rather than the torcher it receives in the dark halls of a corrupt White House and a complicit Attorney General at the Department of Justice. The cover-up is disgusting.

    April 9, 2014 07:39 am at 7:39 am |
  10. Bigdoglv

    Cummings could care less about the facts in this case. He is just running interference so no one will have to answer the important questions that need to be. Just give Lerner amnesty and let her sing. Then we can get to the bottom of this.

    April 9, 2014 07:46 am at 7:46 am |