Congress has recalled a former Internal Revenue Service official at the heart of the agency’s targeting scandal even after she invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) this week ordered Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS' tax-exempt division, to return before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee he chairs to testify on the alleged targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Lerner revealed the scandal last year when she admitted that the IRS had singled out dozens of conservative groups for additional review.
The former IRS official is being represented by William Taylor III of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP., who has asked that Congress reconsider its decision to recall Lerner, saying she fears for her life.
Taylor claims Lerner has received “numerous death threats,” according to Politico.
The FBI has reportedly investigated at least one threat against Lerner.
Taylor said Wednesday that his client would again invoke her right not to incriminate herself if Congress orders her to testify.
But Republicans insist that Lerner lost that privilege after she delivered an opening statement declaring her innocence at a hearing last year. Republican lawmakers contend that she is legally obligated to answer questions on her statement and are reportedly considering options to make her answer for it.
“There is talk about contempt,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told Politico. “We’ll see — we’ve got to give her a chance to answer our questions.”
Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) added: “If we have to hold her in contempt, so be it. I would vote to support that."
Issa confirmed Wednesday that Republican lawmakers are indeed considering contempt charges for Lerner if she refuses to show up to the next hearing or refuses to answer questions.
“We want her to come back and answer questions,” Issa said. “We’ll see on contempt."
It’s unclear whether Republicans on the committee would seek a criminal or civil complaint against Lerner. They could seek both. The committee could handle the civil complaint on its own and sue her in federal court to make her answer questions. A criminal complaint against Lerner would require the cooperation of the Justice Department, meaning it would take longer and probably be less likely to succeed.
Ranking Democratic committee member Elijah Cummings (Md.) believes Issa is trying to force the Lerner case to federal court.
“I have not had a discussion with Issa about what exactly he’s trying to accomplish, but I assume it’s to set it up so he can go to court,” Cummings said.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told Politico the speaker supports Issa’s efforts.
“The speaker strongly supports Chairmen Issa and Camp’s efforts to find the truth about the IRS scandal,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. “Ms. Lerner has the opportunity to make this discussion moot by testifying fully and truthfully.”
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