I Have Not Done Anything Wrong: IRS Official Lois Lerner Invokes 5th Amendment Right

Internal Revenue Service Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner leaves a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee after refusing to testify on May 22, 2013 in Washington, D.C. The committee is investigating allegations that the IRS targeted conservative nonprofit organizations with “Tea Party,” “patriot” and other words in their names for additional scrutiny. Lerner, who headed the division that oversees exempt organizations, exercised her constitutional right not to answer questions. (Getty Images)

The Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the political targeting scandal invoked her constitutional right not to answer lawmakers’ questions on Wednesday, but defiantly asserted that she has done nothing wrong — prompting confusion about how exactly she was using her right not to incriminate herself.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told Politico that Lois Lerner, who leads the IRS office that determines which organizations receive tax-exempt status, will be brought before his panel again.

Lerner was the first to publicly disclose earlier this month that the IRS gave extra scrutiny to conservative groups.

“I have not done anything wrong, 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,” Lerner told House Oversight and Government Reform Committee members. “While I would very much like to answer the 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 manner of this hearing.”

Lerner added that by asserting her right not to testify, “I know that some people will assume I have done something wrong. I have not. One of the basic functions of the Fifth Amendment is to protect innocent individuals, and that is the protection I am invoking today.”

Issa noted during the hearing that because Lerner had asserted her innocence in her opening statement, “I believe you have not asserted your rights but have effectively waived your rights” and took her refusal to answer as a refusal to testify.

An incensed Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) spoke up that Lerner should testify, agreeing that she already waived her constitutional 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, earning applause from the audience.

This post has been updated.

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