See you again soon, Lois. That’s the hope of House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, who will ask Lois Lerner, director of the IRS' exemption unit, to return before the committee to answer questions about the IRS scandal, even though she took the Fifth after making statements at Tuesday's hearing.
“She chose to make an opening statement,” Issa, R-Calif., said at the end of Tuesday's hearing. “I am looking into the possibility of recalling her.” The hearing now stands in recess instead of being adjourned.
Lerner heads the IRS unit responsible for reviewing tax-exempt applications, which she admitted targeted conservative groups for closer scrutiny. Employees in the IRS office in Cincinnati were on the lookout for applications from groups with the word "tea party" or "patriots" in their names, among other things. Lerner triggered the IRS scandal on May 10 when she admitted to the inappropriate actions prior to the release of an inspector general's report last week.
Despite her attorney informing lawmakers Tuesday that she would invoke the Fifth Amendment in that hearing, Lerner broke her silence to maintain her innocence.
“I have not done anything wrong,” she said in an opening statement earlier today. “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 your committee’s questions today, I have 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 have followed my counsel’s advice and not testify or answer any questions today.”
Issa then asked Lerner to reconsider keeping silent on the matter because she has twice given testimony before the committee under oath.
“You have made an opening statement in which you made assertions of your innocence, assertions you did nothing wrong, assertions you broke no laws or rules,” Issa said. “Additionally, you’ve authenticated earlier answers to the IG. At this point, I believe you have not asserted your rights but in fact effectively waived your right.”
Issa then asked her to seek counsel for further guidance on the matter as lawmakers waited. Lerner told the chairman she would not answer “any questions or testify about the subject matter of this committee’s meeting.” She and her counsel were then dismissed.
As Lerner got up to leave, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a former prosecutor and attorney, insisted on making a point. “She just testified,” he said. “She just waived her Fifth Amendment right to privilege. You don’t get to tell your side of the story and then not be subjected to cross-examination. That’s not the way it works. She waived her right to Fifth Amendment privilege by issuing an opening statement. She ought to stand here and answer our questions.”