Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., invoked "McCarthyism" Thursday to describe a House committee's vote to hold ex-IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for protesting her innocence but then refusing to testify about the IRS targeting of conservative groups.
The congressman went ballistic at a previous hearing, accusing Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., of "un-American" behavior after Issa adjourned because Lerner repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment.
Cummings, in addition, has accused one of the groups targeted by the IRS, Catherine Engelbrecht's True the Vote, of being racist.
In short, he's provided plenty of vitriol to create headwinds for the GOP-led committee trying to investigate government wrongdoing.
But that was the job he reportedly was placed there to do by House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Talking Points Memo reported in 2010 that another Democrat, Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., was lined up to be the ranking minority member of the Oversight committee when Democrats got blown out in the 2010 elections and the GOP regained the majority.
Towns surprised everyone when he dropped out of the race for ranking member. But it wasn't his choice, TPM said, citing two sources close to Towns who said the congressman received a call from Pelosi saying she could not support his candidacy.
Congressional leadership and the White House, according to TPM, wanted the ranking member to be a "bulldog, who can stand toe to toe with incoming chairman," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
That meant Cummings would leapfrog both Towns and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the senior Democrat on the committee.
The report, citing the sources, said Cummings had earned broad respect from the caucus for his performance on the committee and had been Pelosi's favorite from the start.
TPM said placing Cummings in the seat was one way of making sure "that ranking members are on their top game, aggressive with the chairmen."
'He ran as an obstructionist'
When he announced his interest in the committee position in December 2010, Cummings released a statement that House Republicans since have interpreted as a declaration he understood his job would be to defend vigorously the Obama administration as Issa proceeded with investigations.
In his statement, Cummings charged Issa "has announced his intention to seek as many as 280 hearings in 2011 alone, in pursuit of obstructing some of the most significant legislative achievements from the 111th Congress and undermining the current Administration."
To meet this challenge, Cummings was resolute.
"The Democratic Caucus must not cede to the new House Majority that wishes to move our nation backward, and must take every opportunity to defend against partisan attacks and the dismantling of policies that ensure security for hardworking Americans," he wrote.
In a June 2011 story, the New York Times quoted former House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., as praising Cummings for his willingness to oppose Issa.
"He's exactly the person we need in that spot," Waxman told the Times. "I think that Congressman Cummings is willing to work with Chairman Issa when he's doing appropriate oversight. But if he uses his position for political purposes then Elijah Cummings is going to point that out and set the record straight."
Issa told the Times Cummings "ran for this job saying he was going to go toe-to-toe and 10 feet ahead and stop me."
"He ran as an obstructionist," Issa said.
Patience worn thin
The move apparently has borne some fruit for Democrats.
According to Human Events writer John Hayward, "Issa's patience has long been stretched by Cummings' shameful antics during these oversight hearings, which we can now view an effort to prevent scrutiny from turning his way."
See video of Cummings blasting Issa for being "un-American:
Cummings raging against the IRS:
Cummings accusing Englebrecht and True the Vote of being racist:
'On the same page of history as McCarthy'
Cummings was at it again Thursday, vocally supporting Lerner's decision to make a statement to the committee investigating the IRS but then refusing to answer any of its questions.
He said while he, too, wanted Lerner's testimony, "I cannot cast a vote that would place me on the same page of the history books as Senator Joseph McCarthy or the House Un-American Activities Committee. And I do not draw that comparison lightly."
He accused fellow members of Congress of trying to obtain a criminal conviction "of an American citizen after she professed her innocence before his committee" and then refused to answer questions.
Cummings charged that not since the 1950s and the most controversial hours of the House Un-American Activities had an attempt has been made to hold a witness in contempt for attempting to exert Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
“Today this committee is trying to do something that even Joe McCarthy could not do in the 1950s, something virtually unprecedented. Sixty years ago, Joe McCarthy tried and failed to obtain a criminal conviction of an American citizen after she professed her innocence before his committee and asserted her right not to testify under the Fifth Amendment.”
Cummings was pointing to 195 when McCarthy pushed to hold in contempt for refusing to testify Diantha Hoag, a Westinghouse employee earning $1.71 an hour that McCarthy had accused of being a communist.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., objected strenuously, pointing out that by giving an opening statement, Lerner had waived her right against self-incrimination.
“I counted 17 separate factual assertions by Ms. Lerner. Not those three little sentences that my colleagues like to cite -- 17 separate factual assertions,” Gowdy insisted.
“That is a lot of talking for somebody who wants to remain silent! That's a lot of talking! If you honestly believe that you can make 17 separate factual assertions and still invoke your right to remain silent, then please tell me what waiver is! Please, tell me what constitutes waiver, if saying 17 separate factual things does not!”
Evidence contradicts previous denials
The latest controversy shows how far Cummings has gone to try to stay on point on the issue about which President Obama said there was "not even a smidgen of corruption."
Wednesday, the committee released evidence Cummings' staff directly approached the IRS for information about True the Vote, a group with which he has ideological differences.
The evidence was revealed as the Oversight committee considered the case against Lerner, who could face up to five years in prison if she is found guilty of disclosing confidential taxpayer information.
As WND reported, after reviewing confidential information about the case, the House committee voted to send a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder referring Lerner for criminal prosecution for using her position to improperly influence agency action against only conservative organizations.
The committee alleges Lerner impeded official investigations by providing misleading statements. Further, it contends Lerner risked exposing confidential taxpayer information and may already have done so.
The newly exposed internal IRS emails between Lerner and other IRS employees show that House Oversight minority staff, working for Cummings, began contacting the IRS in August 2012 about targeted non-profit applicant True the Vote.
Issa and five subcommittee chairmen asked Cummings to explain his staff's investigation of True the Vote. And to explain why he said what was happening wasn't happening.
The Republican lawmakers want to know why the minority hid the efforts of Cummings' staff from the majority and why the ranking member denied such actions at a February subcommittee hearing.
The IRS handed over on April 2 copies of communications between Cummings staff and IRS officials, only days after Oversight Committee members had taken new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen to task for withholding relevant communications.
The letter to Cummings said: "Although you have previously denied that your staff made inquiries to the IRS about conservative organization True the Vote that may have led to additional agency scrutiny, communication records between your staff and IRS officials – which you did not disclose to Majority Members or staff – indicates otherwise."
The letter said that as the committee is scheduled "to consider a resolution holding Ms. Lerner, a participant in responding to your communications that you failed to disclose, in contempt of Congress, you have an obligation to fully explain your staff’s undisclosed contacts with the IRS."