Former Internal Revenue Service official, Lois Lerner, dead center of the agency's attack on Conservative non-profit groups, chose, once again, to assert her constitutional right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing last week.
Lois Lerner headed the IRS division that targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections. Lerner was the first IRS official to publicly disclose the targeting by issuing an apology on behalf of the agency at a law conference in May 2013.
Lerner faced the House Oversight Committee a few days after her words at the conference and invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa recalled Lerner for a hearing this last Wednesday on belief that Lerner might choose to offer information not specifically pointing to her own involvement.
Lerner appeared with her lawyer and invoked the Fifth Amendment at least nine times when questioned by Issa.
Issa, a California Republican, quickly adjourned the hearing despite attempts by Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, to make a statement. At one point, Issa said, "Shut it down," and Cummings' microphone was turned off.
Following the hearing Cummings said he wanted to point out that despite Republican claims of a political conspiracy, the committee's investigation so far has not shown any political motivation by IRS agents or involvement of the White House.
The IRS's inspector general released a year-long audit last year that found agents had improperly targeted conservative political groups for additional investigation and made outrageous document production requests when those groups applied for tax-exempt status.
The IRS watchdog blamed ineffective management by senior IRS officials for allowing it to continue for nearly two years during the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Since the IRS’s actions became public last year much of the agency's leadership has been replaced and the Justice Department has started a criminal investigation; though no one believes the Eric Holder's Justice Department has any serious intent to get to the bottom of the IRS’s misdeeds.
IRS agents were reviewing tea party groups' applications to determine the amount of political activity the groups were engaged in. Under current rules, groups applying for tax-exempt status under section 501 (c) 4 of the tax code can engage in politics but it cannot be their main emphasis.
Three congressional committees are also conducting investigations, though Issa suggested his committee's investigation may become stalled without Lerner's testimony.
"At this point, roads lead to Ms. Lerner," Issa said after the hearing. Without her testimony, "it may dead-end at Ms. Lerner."
Issa and other Republicans on the committee say that Lerner had effectively waived her constitutional right not to testify at last year's hearing because she made an opening statement in which she said she had done nothing wrong. Technically, Wednesday's hearing was a continuation of that hearing.
Issa said the committee will consider whether to vote to hold her in contempt.