Lois Lerner: “I will not Answer any Questions or Testify…”

IRS Hearing

“The irony is inescapable. Ms. Lerner gets to use her constitutional rights, but then won’t stay and answer questions about Americans being denied their constitutional rights.” — Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)

Earlier this morning, Lois Lerner, the embattled director of the IRS’s Tax-Exempt Division, invoked her Fifth Amendment right before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and refused to answer questions about the agency’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative organizations:

“I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations,” Lerner, the head of an IRS division overseeing tax-exempt groups that targeted conservative groups, said before the House Oversight Committee.

Lerner then said she was following her counsel’s advice not to testify. “

“I know that some people will assume that I have done something wrong,” she said. “I have not.”
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)asked that she reconsider, but she declined.

Issa then tried to dismiss Lerner, but Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), himself a former prosecutor, said that Lerner had waived her Fifth Amendment rights via her opening statement. Issa eventually did dismiss the IRS official, but said she could be recalled.

Issa and other top panel members had said that Lerner,the official at the middle of the uproar over the agency’s targeting of conservative groups, had misled them on four separate occasions in 2012 about the agency’s targeting of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status – months before a Treasury audit detailed that extra scrutiny.

Issa didn’t just advise her to reconsider. He told Lerner that her that by claiming innocence in her opening statement and authenticating answers she gave to the Treasury Department’s Inspector General, who investigated the IRS’s targeting of these groups, that she “effectively waived [her] right.”

Lerner briefly spoke to her counsel, and then told Issa, “I will not answer any questions or testify about the subject matter of this committee’s meeting.”

Issa then dismissed Lerner, but warned that she could be recalled before the committee. He also indicated that the committee would inquire with the Justice Department about immunity for her, should they decide to bring her back.

You can watch the full exchange below:

While there has been opposition to an independent investigation of the matter from President Obama and other Democrats, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) indicated that such action may have to be taken if answers weren’t provided at the hearing. “There will be hell to pay if that’s the route we choose to go down,” the Massachusetts Democrat told the witnesses, including Lerner.

There has been a lot of discussion and anger about Lerner invoking the Fifth Amendment. We have to remember that she has a right to do so. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t come to our own conclusions, even though she is claiming innocence. Perception matters, and the perception — the deduction that the public will make — is that she has something to hide.

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