Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) had looked forward to Wednesday.
The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee planned to haul former IRS official Lois Lerner back before the committee. Republicans have continued to pursue their investigation of the agency’s screening of applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups. And while Lerner refused to answer questions last year during her first appearance before the committee, Republicans had spent months arguing that she had actually waived her Fifth Amendment rights by giving a statement before invoking them. Issa recalled her, and on Sunday, he appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and stated that Lerner would in fact testify.
But things did not go according to plan for Issa. Lerner once again invoked her Fifth Amendment rights. And then, despite Issa’s attempts to wrap things up quickly, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the committee, hijacked the hearing.
“I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America! I am tired of this,” Cummings said, even after Issa tried to adjourn the hearing and cut off Cummings’ microphone. “You cannot just have a one-sided investigation.”
Cummings went on to say that, over the past year, the committee has obtained hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and interviewed dozens of witnesses, that the IRS had spent millions of dollars, and that “we have found no evidence to support allegations of a political conspiracy against conservative groups.”
The Democrat acknowledged that “evidence of gross mismanagement” at the IRS had been found, and that he too had questions for Lerner. But he said he did not support Republicans’ conclusion that she had waived her Fifth Amendment rights, and he did not believe a court of law would uphold that conclusion.
Republicans have continued to pursue the IRS investigation despite the release last year of documents showing that the agency may have also singled out progressive groups for additional scrutiny. In the build up to Wednesday’s hearing, Lerner’s lawyer had written Issa a letter saying that recalling his client before the committee was “not only improper but dangerous.”
“I advised the staff that calling Ms. Lerner knowing that she will assert her rights was not only improper but dangerous,” attorney Bill Taylor wrote to Issa, according to a letter obtained by The Hill. “Ms. Lerner has been the subject of numerous threats on her life and safety, and on the life and safety of her family. I left with the staff recent evidence of those threats.”
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