Opinion
              IRS official Lois Lerner is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 22, 2013, before the House Oversight Committee hearing to investigate the extra scrutiny IRS gave to Tea Party and other conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status. Lerner told the committee she did nothing wrong and then invoked her constitutional right to not answer lawmakers

Lois Lerner takes five

Photo of Gayle Trotter
Gayle Trotter
Lawyer

As a public service, I am presenting this transcript of the testimony we could have heard from the IRS official in charge of tax-exempt organizations.

After testifying before the House Oversight Committee that she did nothing wrong, IRS tax-exempt organizations director Lois Lerner said that she would not “answer any questions or testify about the subject matter of the committee’s meeting.”

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa pointedly told Lerner that she is uniquely able to provide testimony on how and why the IRS targeted conservative groups. Lerner took five, as criminal lawyers say. She responded by invoking the Fifth Amendment and refusing to answer any of the committee’s questions.

Imagine how the questioning could have unfolded on national television:

Q. “Are you the head and director of the IRS tax-exempt organizations division, and were you given that job because you are experienced and knowledgeable about the Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(4), which governs tax-exempt entities for social, welfare, grassroots and other lobbying or issue membership organizations?”

A. “On the advice of counsel, I decline to answer any questions before this committee on the grounds that the information I provide may tend to incriminate me.”

Q. “You are the head of the IRS’s tax-exempt organizations division, and yet you cannot tell this committee whether you are familiar with the laws that you administer, laws that result in compulsory payment of money upon pain of criminal liability?”

A. “I decline to answer.”

Q. “Do you know what 501(c)(4) organizations are permitted to do?”

A. “I decline to answer.”

Q. “Are you aware that 501(c)(4) organizations may publicly educate on policy issues? That the law permits them to engage in direct lobbying? That they may mobilize their members for grassroots lobbying and campaign purposes? That they may make candidate-related expenses?”

A. “I decline to answer.”

Q. “Do you realize that before 2010, the time frame for review and approval of IRS tax-exempt status was normally 3 to 6 months for a 501(c)(4) organization?”

A. “I decline to answer.”

Q. “Were you aware that a presidential election would occur, and did occur, in November 2012?”

A. “I decline to answer.”

Q. “Were you aware that your division was targeting groups that opposed Barack Obama’s policies and his re-election?”

A. “I decline to answer.”

Q. “Do you know what the First Amendment of our Constitution says? Do you understand that it protects political speech and association? That these principles are at the core of our First Amendment protections? Do you realize that the IRS federal governmental program of targeting viewpoint organizations directly thwarts one of our most precious constitutional rights?”

A. “I decline to answer.”

Q. “Do you know that the IRS is still holding up the applications for exempt status for dozens — if not hundreds — of conservative organizations? Do you realize this is a continuing problem?”

A. “I decline to answer.”