WASHINGTON — The House Oversight Committee determined Friday that Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights at a hearing in May on the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
Lerner was subpoenaed by Committee Chair Darrell Issa, and made clear before she arrived that she planned to take the Fifth and not testify. Issa insisted she appear anyway. She gave an opening statement in which she plead the Fifth and claimed her innocence, before Issa excused her from the hearing.
But there was some debate, spearheaded by South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, over whether or not Lerner had waived her Fifth Amendment rights by delivering the short statement, in which she declared her innocence and defended herself against some of the claims that she is guilty of wrongdoing.
On Friday, the Oversight Committee voted along party lines that Lerner had waived that right. Every Republican voted that she had waived her right, and every Democrat voted that she had not.
Gowdy, in a statement before the vote, pointed out that Lerner made nine separate claims of innocence after taking the Fifth.
“If that’s not implied waiver, what is?” he ranted.
Republicans lamented that Lerner had, in the words of Florida Rep. John Mica, deliberately tried to “thwart” the committee’s investigation.
“Lois Lerner is, in fact, the poster child for … a federal bureaucrat thumbing her nose at congress,” Mica said in statements before the vote took place.
Democrats called the vote a witch hunt, and insisted that members could not take an informed vote without a hearing with legal experts being held first. An amendment from Washington, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton to that effect was rejected by a party line vote.
“This investigation has been characterized by a series of unsubstantiated accusations of members of congress with no evidence to support their claims,” said ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings. “Today’s hearing is the latest unfortunate example.”