By Jerome Corsi and Garth Kant
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Lois Lerner, the former director of tax-exempt organizations at the IRS, once again refused to answer questions posed by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating discrimination by the agency against conservative groups.
“Roads lead to Lois Lerner,” Issa told reporters at the end of the abbreviated hearing.
Issa adjourned the hearing after asking seven questions and receiving no answers from Lerner. After each question, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.
Most of the questions asked for an explanation of emails concerning IRS handing of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, including one in which Lerner wrote: “Tea Party Matter very dangerous.”
In an interview after the hearing, Issa told WND that Lerner’s lawyer had indicated that she would testify under certain conditions.
“She chose not to testify,” Issa said. “After an exhaustive seven questions, I determined she was not, under any circumstances, going to testify. … So, I adjourned.”
Issa said his committee will continue its investigation into the IRS targeting of conservative groups without Lerner’s testimony.
WND asked Issa if there was any hope of hearing from Lerner.
“No, I have exhausted any possibility of her speaking, at this point,” he said. “We have attempted to, in multiple ways, including making it clear that we could do a one-week delay. They changed their mind and declined that.”
Asked by another reporter if he was considering charging Lerner with contempt of Congress, Issa said it’s “certainly something that has to be considered.”
“At this point, we’ve been looking for the truth. We had hoped that Miss Lerner, particularly in light of so many direct emails that are now with us in evidence … we had hoped to get answers from her,” Issa said. “We’ll continue to seek answers from other areas. But, why did she ask for Crossroads GPS’ application to be scrutinized by name? We probably will not know that, because that is something that is only in her mind.”
WND asked Issa how much Lerner’s refusal to talk sets back the investigation.
“As you could see from our questioning today, we have continued to gather facts around Miss Lerner’s absence of testimony,” he replied. “It would have allowed us to bring this investigation to probably a pretty quick close, if she’d been willing to answer those questions. Without it, we will undoubtedly have a few more questions to try to find out things she could have answered quickly today.”
WND asked Issa if he is still confident he will get to the bottom of the matter.
“It may well be that we have gotten to the bottom of it,” he said. “At this point, roads lead to Miss Lerner, the witness who took the Fifth. She becomes one of the key characters at this point. Had she been willing to explain those emails, which were provided through separate subpoenas, then we could have, perhaps, brought this to a close. Without that, it may dead-end with Miss Lerner.”
‘I am tired of this’
When Issa adjourned the hearing, the committee’s ranking Democratic Party member, Rep. Elijah Cummings, tried to assert privilege, declaring he had a question. He proceeded to make a statement instead of asking a question, however, and Issa had Cummings’ microphone turned off.
“I am a member of the House of Representatives and I am tired of this,” Cummings declared in an angry voice.
For several minutes after Issa closed the hearing, Cummings read his statement into a closed microphone as Lerner sat at the witness table listening.
“You cannot conduct a one-sided investigation and get away with it,” Cummings shouted, addressing his remark to Issa.
Issa explained to reporters afterward that Cummings was not directing questions to the witness and the committee had already adjourned.
The chairman said he did recognize Cummings when the Democrat said he had a question. But the Maryland congressman went into an "opening statement," Issa explained, and opening statements had already been completed.
"The fact is, Mr. Cummings came to make a make a point of his objections to the process we were going through," Issa said. "He was actually slandering me at the moment that the mics did go off by claiming that this had not been a real investigation."
Issa asserted it had been a "bipartisan investigation by multiple committees in which we had testimony in multiple hearings ... in which it was very clear that there had been targeting of conservative groups."
Waiving her right
In her May appearance, Lerner made a statement declaring her innocence before invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions.
The panel voted June 28 that by making a statement, she waived her Fifth Amendment privilege.
Prior to today's hearing, Lerner initially said she would only testify in exchange for a grant of immunity. Subsequently, in a series of emails between Lerner’s attorney and committee staff, she agreed to testify openly but requested a one-week delay for the March 5 hearing.
Despite IRS and Treasury Department foot-dragging in response to an August 2013 subpoena, the House Oversight Committee determined that Lerner’s division continued targeting amid increased pressure from President Obama and Democrats in Congress to take action to limit conservative 501(c)4 groups in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
WND has reported that the IRS has proposed new rules that would limit the ability of conservative 501(c)4 groups to participate in the mid-term elections this November as they had in 2010, when Republicans won majority control of the House of Representatives.
A May 2013 review of IRS tax-exempt applications found that not a single group with “tea party” or “patriots” in the title was approved by the IRS after February 2010, while the IRS approved applications made by dozens of progressive groups in the same period of time.
Questions Lerner refused to answer
Issa's office issued a copy of the questions the chairman posed to Lerner:
[Slide 1] In October 2010, you told a Duke University group: “The Supreme Court dealt a huge blow, overturning a 100-year-old precedent that basically corporations couldn’t give directly to political campaigns. And everyone is up in arms because they don’t like it. The Federal Election Commission can’t do anything about it. They want the IRS to fix the problem.”
Who exactly wanted you to “fix the problem” caused by Citizens United?
[Slide 2] In February 2011, you e-mailed your colleagues in the IRS: “Tea Party Matter very dangerous. This could be the vehicle to go to court on the issue of whether Citizens United overturning the ban on corporate spending applies to tax-exempt rules. Counsel and Judy Kindell need to be in on this one please. Cincy should probably NOT have these cases.”
Why did you think the Tea Party cases were “very dangerous”?
[Slide 3] In September 2010, you e-mailed your subordinates about initiating a “c4 project,” but you wrote: “we need to be cautious so it isn’t a per se political project.”
Why were you worried about this being perceived as a political project?
[Slide 4] Michael Seto, manager of EO Technical in Washington, testified that you ordered Tea Party cases to undergo a “multi-tier review.” He testified: “She sent me email saying that when these cases need to go through multi-tier review and they will eventually have to go to Miss Kindell and the chief counsel’s office.”
Why did you order the Tea Party cases to undergo a “multi-tier review”?
[Slide 5] In June 2011, you requested that Holly Paz obtain a copy of the tax-exempt application filed by Crossroads GPS so that your senior technical advisor, Judy Kindell, could review it and summarize the issues for you.
Why did you want to have the Crossroads GPS application?
[Slide 6] In June 2012, you were part of an e-mail exchange that appeared to be about writing new regulations on political speech for 501(c)(4) groups “off-plan” in 2013.
What does “off-plan” mean?
[Slide 7] In February 2014, President Obama stated that there was not a “smidgeon of corruption” in the IRS targeting.
Ms. Lerner, do you believe that there is not a smidgeon of corruption in the IRS targeting of conservatives?
[Slide 8] On Saturday, our Committee’s General Counsel sent an e-mail to your lawyer stating:
“I understand … that Ms. Lerner is willing [to] testify, and she is requesting a one week delay. In talking to the Chairman, wanted to make sure we had this right.”
Your lawyer gave a one word e-mail response: “yes.”
Are you still seeking this discussed delay?