House panel votes to hold IRS official in contempt
The way things are going, we may never really know how conservative groups were targeted by the IRS, but the committees hope these actions will persuade Ms. Lerner to come clean.
The House Oversight Committee, chaired by San Diego Congressman Darrell Issa, voted Thursday to charge Lerner with contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions despite admitting conservative groups seeking tax exempt status and received added scrutiny. The vote came a day after the Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to the Justice Department, urging she be criminally prosecuted for improper and aggressive interest in delaying and denying these group applications. This has come down to a fierce battle between Republicans searching for a full accounting of what happened by calling Lerner as a witness before Issa's committee, where she took the 5th after a defiant speech.
“The case law to me is clear, that is not the way the 5th amendment works,” stated Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. “You don't get to tell your side of the story and then avoid the very process in this system for eliciting the truth, which is cross examination.”
The Democrats counter by calling this whole affair a witch hunt, akin to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950's, where people were labeled as Communists without proof.
“I do not want to go back to that shameful era, in which Congress tried to strip away the constitutional rights of American citizens under the bright lights of hearings that had nothing to do with responsible oversight and everything to do with the worst kind of partisan politics,” said Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Attorney General Eric Holder was repeatedly criticized for not being forthcoming about an investigation his office had begun. But the Wall Street Journal is reporting Holder leaning toward closing it for lack of a smoking gun.
“The FBI is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken in connection with those matters related to the IRS,” said Holder. “Those were, I think as everyone can agree, if not criminal, they were certainly outrageous.”
Holder himself was held in contempt by the House two years ago. If the House wanted to, under its inherent contempt authority, it could put Lerner in jail until a new Congress is seated. It's problematic politically because she'd be seen as a victim and not a villain.