A senior Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the agency’s political targeting scandal is offering to testify before Congress — but only if she is promised immunity from prosecution.
Before being placed on paid administrative leave in May, Lois Lerner oversaw the office that scrutinized groups applying for tax-exempt status. Congress called on her to testify earlier this year, but she refused to answer questions, first declaring her innocence and the invoking her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
But now it appears she is willing to play ball with Congress — but only on her terms.
“They can obtain her testimony tomorrow by doing it the easy way … immunity,” Lerner’s Lawyer, William W. Taylor III, told POLITICO in a phone interview. “That’s the way to resolve all of this.”
Lerner’s offer shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering that this is the type of hardball she has played since first publicly apologizing on behalf of the IRS for targeting conservative groups. But it could backfire on her: there’s a possibility the House will vote to hold Lerner in contempt.
Her lawyer isn’t worried.
“None of this matters,” Taylor said. “I mean, nobody likes to be held in contempt of Congress, of course, but the real question is one that we’re fairly confident about, and I don’t think any district judge in the country would hold that she waived.”
House Republicans claim Lerner waived her right to avoid self-incrimination when she appeared before a House Oversight panel in May and declared her innocence.
“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,” she added.
The House has since taken a vote on whether Lerner waived her right to remain silent when she delivered her “I’m innocent” speech.
The committee agreed Lerner needs to answer their questions.
“The committee is entitled to Ms. Lerner’s full and truthful testimony without further conditions,” Frederick Hill, a panel spokesman, told in a statement to POLITICO. “If, however, Ms. Lerner’s attorney is interested in discussing limited immunity, the committee will listen.”
As of this writing, Oversight Republicans are not entirely sure how or when they will recall Lerner. But they are looking in that direction.
“We hope she comes in and gives us the truth and answers questions,” Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told POLTICO. “If that doesn’t happen, then you cross the next bridge. … If she says, ‘No, I’m going to come in and assert my Fifth Amendment rights again and not going to speak,’ then you think about what the other options are.”
If Lerner refuses to answer questions, she may be held in contempt.
“If Lerner is held in contempt, Taylor notes that a federal judge will have the final say about whether she waived her constitutional protection. That’s because criminal contempt charges go to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia for potential prosecution,” the POLITCO report explains.
“The Oversight committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), could initiate civil proceedings against Lerner on its own initiative,” it adds. “But such an option would delay Lerner’s testimony for months, if not longer, lessening her value to the panel’s IRS probe.”
Click here to read the full POLITICO report.
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