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On a largely party-line vote the House of Representatives voted 231-187 to hold former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about the agency’s targeting of conservative groups.
The matter will now be referred to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and then to a grand jury for further review. Whether prosecution will follow remains to be seen.
Congress is authorized to hold someone in contempt if the person is thought to be obstructing “the proceedings of Congress” or an inquiry by a House committee.
House Republican leaders have said Lerner’s testimony is necessary to fully investigate the IRS’ singling out of tea party applications for no-profit status for additional scrutiny and delays.
“Thorough investigations by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee as well as the Ways and Means Committee have revealed findings that indicate that Ms. Lerner played a central role in the illegal targeting of conservative groups by the IRS,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said last month.
Lerner has twice refused to answer questions posed by the House, asserting the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Last May, Lerner refused to answer questions at a hearing about IRS agents singling out Tea Party applications. She again refused to answer questions in March, citing her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“You don’t get to use a public hearing to tell the public and press your side of the story and then invoke the Fifth,” said Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. “That is not how the Fifth Amendment is meant to be used. It is a shield; Lois Lerner used it as a sword.”
“Today’s vote has nothing to do with the facts or the law,” said Lerner’s attorney, William Taylor, in a statement. “Its only purpose is to keep the baseless IRS ‘conspiracy’ alive through the mid-term elections. Ms. Lerner has not committed contempt of Congress. She did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights by proclaiming her innocence.”
WND reported Lerner’s refusal to testify has helped mask the identity of a mystery figure — someone in a position of great power who requested the targeting of conservative groups — who has surfaced in the scandal.
The congressional committee leading the investigation into the IRS abuse scandal obtained a bombshell email from a Justice Department employee to Lerner that said, “I have been asked to run something by you.”
The “something” was the possibility of criminally investigating conservative groups. The email was sent by Justice Department employee Richard Pilger, director of the Election Crimes Branch of the Public Integrity Section.
But the big questions was: Who asked Pilger to ask Lerner?
Who triggered the inquiry?
Who wanted to prosecute conservatives for political activity that even Lerner would concede was not illegal?
One question for the House Oversight Committee was whether that person was at the Department of Justice, or, perhaps, in the White House.