Lois Lerner, the Internal Revenue Service’s former official, will probably face contempt charges on Thursday for pleading the Fifth Amendment and not talking to the House committee that is investigating concerns that the IRS treated conservative groups differently than other groups leading up to the 2012 presidential election. As to whether Lois Lerner will spend time in prison for her actions before the House committee is not known, according to a Yahoo! News report on Thursday. However, it is reported that Lerner would probably not be incarcerated for her actions of pleading the Fifth Amendment.
It is expected that contempt of Congress charges will be filed, however, as Republicans have the majority in the House of Representatives. Republican groups were those harmed by the alleged IRS actions against conservative groups – of which Lerner has taken the Fifth Amendment.
Lois Lerner was the head of an IRS division that reviews tax-exempt groups’ applications for tax exemption during the time that the IRS is accused of treating conservatives groups more stringently in their quest for tax-exempt status by the IRS. She was issued a subpoena to testify before Congress. While she has shown up for her hearings and testimony, she has pleaded the Fifth Amendment and not given requested information for the House committee to assess what happened under her leadership when the scandal occurred.
A year ago, as Lerner sat before the House committee’s panel, she asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege and refused to answer questions regarding the scandal. The problem is that she read a statement at the opening of the hearing which many believe waived her Fifth Amendment rights. Basically, she had her say and then fell back on the Fifth Amendment to excuse herself from saying more. It is argued that this is not how the Fifth Amendment works – and since she opened the door and walked in with her statement – so to speak – she has got to keep talking. When Lerner refused to continue speaking to the House committee on the topic at hand, she was said to have waived her Fifth Amendment rights by reading the statement. Furthermore, it has been stated over and over again that she should have – if not, would have – obviously known this to be the case.
In the worst case scenario for Lois Lerner, should she be found in contempt by the entire House of Representative’s vote, she could face criminal prosecution. Reportedly, by an obscure legal provision, the House could send Lerner to prison.
There are those who are logically believing that the IRS and Lerner did something wrong or she would speak before the congressional hearing. Persons of that mindset want her to face consequences for her actions as having been a government employee with hands-on knowledge of a situation being investigated for wrongdoing.
Though it has not been done, historically for the last 79 years, the House has the power to bring a person in front of the governmental structure by the Sergeant-at-Arms for trial. If the person does not testify or is found guilty of being in contempt, that person can be detained for the entire length of the House session as needed. Additionally, Lerner could be charged under a criminal contempt statue. That charge would awkwardly send the case to Attorney General Eric Holder – who has also been accused of still-current congressional contempt that dates back two years.
Historically, the last time a person received prison time for contempt of Congress was in 1983 when Rita Lavelle, the former EPA official was successful in winning her contempt case in court but was found guilty on a perjury charge.