The House rules committee convened Tuesday on Capitol Hill to prepare the contempt of Congress resolution for ex-IRS official Lois Lerner, which the full House of Representatives will vote on Wednesday.
Tensions ran high as Democratic Ranking Member Rep. Louise Slaughter and other Democrats grilled Republican House oversight Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, who represented his committee in recommending contempt. The committee considered resolutions both to hold Lerner in contempt and also to call Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor in the case. Democrats in the hearing consistently expressed certainty that the contempt citation against Lerner will pass Wednesday.
Republican Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa and Democratic oversight Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings arrived to the hearing at 6:20 p.m.
“I’m here with a very regretful referral, but which our committee found necessary to do, because Lois Lerner appeared before our committee and spoke, represented by counsel, spoke a long opening statement in which she detailed her innocence and what she had or hadn’t done,” Issa said, referring to Lerner waiving her Fifth Amendment rights.
Issa cited U.S. House counsel, “truly the only independent person paid to answer those questions,” in stating that Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment privilege. Issa also noted that the House Ways and Means Committee conducted a “thorough investigation” and made a criminal referral.
“The story includes that Lois Lerner in the intervening period gave testimony in front of her attorney … to the Justice Department without asserting any Fifth Amendment rights. She answered their questions but wouldn’t answer Congress’ questions,” Issa said. Issa noted that Lerner’s attorney initially said that she would answer questions at a May 5 hearing but then, deciding that “she would not get a fair hearing, she chose not to.”
“They had said to me in emails that she would come back and testify,” Issa said, referring to Lerner’s legal team, which promised Issa that Lerner would testify at a May hearing after a one-week delay. “I would have given her two weeks.” But Lerner’s attorney Bill Taylor “came in that morning” and “what he said to me was that she had changed her mind” and that “she was very upset… She was aware of the consequences and did not testify.”
Issa also noted that Lerner leaked an upcoming inspector general’s report to the press “in violation of the law in my understanding.”
Tensions flared between Issa and Ranking Member Rep. Louise Slaughter, who said that progressive groups were also targeted by the IRS. “You could not be more wrong. You could not be more wrong,” Issa said.
Oversight Ranking Member Rep. Cummings called the resolutions “legally deficient” and said that they “should not come to the floor of the House.” Cummings added that holding Lerner in contempt without holding a hearing with expert testimony “jeopardizes the constitutional protections of all Americans in the future.”
Non-voting judiciary committee member Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee called the resolutions “constitutionally deficient” and slammed Republicans for “pure political theater” and for conducting a “foolhardy witch hunt” and “unfortunate charade.”
“Rather than simply writing a letter to the attorney general asking him to appoint a special counsel,” Republicans proceeded in a fashion guaranteed to “take time on the floor… and to get C-SPAN coverage,” Jackson Lee said.
Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly said that he is sure the contempt vote for Lerner will be along party lines. Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern criticized a “let’s investigate the administration week” event that he accused Republicans of organizing by investigating the IRS scandal and Benghazi.
“What happens with the IRS is that we should get off of their backs,” said Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings.