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House Oversight Committee Says Lois Lerner Waived Her 5th Amendment Rights, Could Be Forced to Testify

Internal Revenue Service Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner(C) is sworn in before testifying to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee May 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee is investigating allegations that the IRS targeted conservative non-profit organizations with the words 'tea party' and 'constitution' in their names for additional scrutiny. Lerner, who headed the division that oversees exempt organizations, plans to assert her constitutional right not to answer questions. (Getty Images)

The House Oversight Committee on Friday passed a resolution finding that Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination during a hearing last month.

The resolution, approved by a 22-17 partisan vote, doesn't itself force Lerner to return before lawmakers, but clears the way for her to be called back to testify on the IRS targeting of conservative groups.

Internal Revenue Service Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner is sworn in before testifying to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee May 22, 2013 in Washington, D.C. The committee passed a resolution finding that she waived her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination after asserting her innocence in the IRS targeting of conservative groups. (Getty Images)

Lerner, the first to publicly disclose that the IRS gave extra scrutiny to conservative groups, appeared before the committee last month and gave an opening statement declaring she had "not done anything wrong," before proceeding to invoke the Fifth Amendment and not answer any questions. Her actions set off a debate about whether she had in fact already waived her constitutional rights by asserting her innocence.

"Having now considered the facts, I believe Lois Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment privileges," House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Friday. "She did so when she chose to make a voluntary opening statement."

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who castigated Lerner for pleading the Fifth during last month's hearing, reiterated his sentiments Friday.

"That's not how the Fifth Amendment works," Gowdy said. "You're not allowed to just say your side of the story ... She could have sat there and said nothing."

Democrats, however, denied Lerner waived her rights and criticized the Republican-led effort to block her from invoking the Fifth Amendment. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) called it "an egregious abuse of power that tramples the Constitution and serves no valid legislative purpose."

“I agree that she has information that is relevant to the Committee’s investigation,” said Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee. “But we must respect the constitutional rights of every witness who comes before the committee.”

This post has been updated.

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