WASHINGTON – Lois Lerner, head of the IRS tax exempt organizations division, told the House Oversight Committee that she had done nothing wrong before invoking her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not testify.
“I have not done anything wrong,” Lerner said in a brief opening statement. “I have not broken any laws, I have not violated any IRS rules and regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”
Lerner said she “would very much like to answer the committees questions today,” but that her counsel had advised her not to testify, in light of the Department of Justice criminal investigation into the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
Because she was taking the Fifth, Lerner said, “I know that some people will assume I’ve done something wrong. I have not.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the committee, subsequently dismissed Lerner from the hearing.
Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy objected, saying that the committee should operate like a courtroom, “and she just testified, she just waived her Fifth Amendment right to privilege.”
“You don’t get to tell your side of the story and 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,” Gowdy said, a statement which prompted applause from the audience.
But ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings noted that the committee does not operate the way a federal court room does, and she was permitted to remain silent, and to leave.