House committee: Lerner waived Fifth Amendment rights

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee determined on Friday that Lois Lerner, the embattled director of the IRS’s Tax Exempt Division, waived her Fifth Amendment rights when she appeared before the committee last month.

By a party-line, 22 to 17, vote the committee approved a resolution determining that Lerner “chose to make a voluntary opening statement discussing her position at the Internal Revenue Service” in which she declared that she “[had] not done anything wrong.”

“Ms. Lerner’s self-selected, and entirely voluntary, opening statement constituted a waiver of her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination because a witness may not testify voluntarily about a subject and then invoke the privilege against self-incrimination when questioned about the details,” reads the resolution passed by the committee. “Resolved, That the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform determines that the voluntary statement offered by Ms. Lerner constituted a waiver of her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination as to all questions within the subject matter of the Committee hearing that began on May 22, 2013[.]”

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) praised the passage of the resolution, expressing hope that it would lead to some sunlight on the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups.

“[Friday]’s vote brings us closer to hearing Ms. Lerner’s important testimony about the targeting of conservatives,” said Issa in a statement issued by the committee. “The Committee remains focused on hearing Ms. Lerner’s full and truthful testimony.”

During the hearing last month, Lerner, as the resolution notes, denied any wrongdoing and claimed that she had not broken any laws. But after making that claim, she told the committee that she would not answer any of their questions.

“[M]embers of this committee have accused me of providing false information when I responded to questions about the IRS processing of applications for tax exemption,” Lerner, who has been placed on leave by the IRS due to her role in the scandal, told the committee on May 22nd. “I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”

“And while I would very much like to answer the committee’s questions today, I’ve been advised by my counsel to assert my Constitutional right not to testify or answer questions related to the subject matter of this hearing,” she added. “After very careful consideration, I’ve decided to follow my counsel’s advice, and not testify or answer any of the questions today. Because I’m asserting my right not to testify, I know that some people will assume that I’ve done something wrong. I have not.”

Issa dismissed her after she again reasserted her Fifth Amendment right, but not before Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a former prosecutor, said that Lerner had waived her rights by declaring her innocence. Issa told Lerner that she could be subject to recall.

Despite the ruling, it appears that Lerner will continue to invoke her Fifth Amendment rights in any future appearance before the committee. If she does indeed do that, it could lead to contempt charges.

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