Republicans on Tuesday evening took a step toward a formal House vote on whether IRS employee Lois Lerner should be help in contempt of Congress after she failed to answer questions about the IRS targeting scandal.
The House Rules Committee approved a rule for two resolutions that could come to the floor as early as Wednesday. The rule governs floor debate and voting on the resolutions, and it passed in a party-line vote.
One of these resolutions finds that Lerner failed to comply with a House subpoena to answer questions about the scandal, which involved the IRS decision to apply extra scrutiny to conservative political groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Lerner was subpoenaed to speak to the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee in May 2013, on whether the IRS was applying closer scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. In that hearing, she made an opening statement in which she said, “I have not done anything wrong,” among other things.
After that, she said she would invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to testify and possibly incriminate herself.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) argued at the time that by making her opening statement, Lerner had waived her Fifth Amendment rights.
The committee later decided Gowdy was right, and voted that Lerner had waived her rights. But when called back before the Committee in March 2014, Lerner continued to invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
At the Rules Committee Tuesday night, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Lerner’s refusal to testify is forcing his hand to push for a contempt vote.
“Lois Lerner appeared before our committee and spoke, represented by counsel, spoke in a long opening statement in which she detailed her innocence, and detailed what she had and hadn’t done,” Issa said. “She then asserted her Fifth Amendment rights,” he said, adding that members didn’t expect a long opening statement, and instead expected her to immediately plead the Fifth.
Issa’s committee recommended a resolution that says “Ms. Lerner shall be found to be in contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a congressional subpoena.”
The committee also recommended that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) certify the committee’s report on the incident to the U.S. Attorney General, “to the end that Ms. Lerner be proceeded against in the manner and form provided by law.”
The second resolution is related, and asks Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute Lerner for refusing to testify.
But the contempt vote could be the end of the process for Republicans, as Holder — who himself has been found in contempt of Congress — is not expected to prosecute.
The House Ways & Means Committee has also voted to refer Lerner to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
Democrats continue to argue that Republicans are keeping the scandal alive for political reasons, including to “get ratings.” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said Tuesday night that the GOP is putting on a show for C-SPAN, but is mostly just wasting time.
“Unfortunately, the real scandal here is that this foolhardy witch hunt directed at the IRS has cost American taxpayers well in excess of $14 million,” Jackson Lee said.