IRS official returns to Congress, seeks immunity in exchange for testimony
Yesterday the House Oversight Committee passed a resolution declaring that IRS official Lois Lerner – to date the key figure in the abuses of power directed at conservative, pro-life, and Tea Party groups – waived her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination when she delivered a self-serving statement at the beginning of her previous congressional appearance. The vote was a straight 22-17 partisan split, because Democrats are very anxious to keep the probe of IRS wrongdoing from proceeding any further.
It was widely assumed that Lerner would march back to Congress and simply repeat the Fifth to every individual question posed to her, but things might be getting a little more interesting than that, according to a Politico report from Tuesday night:
Embattled IRS official Lois Lerner will not testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unless she’s given immunity from prosecution, her lawyer told POLITICO Tuesday.
“They can obtain her testimony tomorrow by doing it the easy way … immunity,” William W. Taylor III said in a phone interview. “That’s the way to resolve all of this.”
The comments reflect the hard-line approach Lerner, the former head of the IRS division that scrutinized conservative groups, and her legal team are taking in defending her role in the agency’s scandal.
Taylor, a founding partner of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, is even shrugging off the possibility that the full House might vote to hold Lerner in contempt.
“None of this matters,” he said. “I mean, nobody likes to be held in contempt of Congress, of course, but the real question is one that we’re fairly confident about, and I don’t think any district judge in the country would hold that she waived.”
The question of whether Lerner inadvertently waived her Fifth Amendment rights remains contentious. The idea that federal officials can escape oversight by invoking the Fifth, and still keep their jobs, is absolutely absurd.
Taylor’s right about the contempt of Congress charges – that means less than nothing to an out-of-control Administration whose contempt for congressional oversight is a matter of record, and for which the media extracts absolutely no public-relations price. It is therefore intriguing that she’s willing to talk about immunity, because there seems little reason why she can’t just sit tight, collect her paid administrative leave money, and wait to be rewarded for keeping her lip zipped. Those ineffectual contempt proceedings would take months to complete, and they’d run through the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who is unlikely to look favorably upon such efforts. And even if he does, the end result is viewed by Obama Administration officials as a piece of paper covered with frowny faces drawn in crayon by House Republicans.
The House Oversight committee sounds willing to continue this discussion, while one member remains brimming with optimism that Lerner will decide to do the right thing without further inducement, bless his great radiant heart:
“The committee is entitled to Ms. Lerner’s full and truthful testimony without further conditions,” said panel spokesman Frederick Hill in a statement to POLITICO. “If, however, Ms. Lerner’s attorney is interested in discussing limited immunity, the committee will listen.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), a senior oversight Republican helping oversee the IRS investigation, said the panel is still hopeful she’ll come to the committee on her own free will, arguing that questions of immunity and contempt are “down the road.”
“We hope she comes in and gives us the truth and answers questions,” Jordan said in a brief phone interview Tuesday. “If that doesn’t happen, then you cross the next bridge. … If she says, ‘No, I’m going to come in and assert my Fifth Amendment rights again and not going to speak,’ then you think about what the other options are.”
Which brings us back to the original question: if Lerner, her superiors, and her subordinates did nothing wrong, why is she asserting her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination?
Update: The FBI agents “investigating” the IRS scandal still have not contacted any of the victimized groups yet. I don’t suppose Lerner is shaking in her boots at the thought of finding herself on the wrong end of such an “investigation.”