WASHINGTON — During a highly charged showdown with House Republicans, former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner declined to answer any questions Wednesday when she appeared before a committee investigating the tax agency’s scrutiny of applications from conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Lerner repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a tense exchange with Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee.
After an opening statement in which he raised the possibility of holding her in contempt, Issa asked Lerner 10 pointed questions about her role in the IRS targeting. To each one, she responded, “On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question.”
After fewer than 15 minutes, Issa, R-Calif., adjourned the hearing.
“I can see no point in going further,” he said, saying it was clear Lerner was not going to cooperate.
When the ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, tried to ask a question, Issa told Republicans on the committee they could leave and the hearing was over. He also told Lerner she was free to go.
“Shame, shame,” Democrats called out, as Republicans filed out of the hearing room.
You cannot run a committee like this, Cummings shouted at Issa as the microphones on the dais went dead.
Lerner was director of the IRS office that oversees non-profit organizations’ applications for tax exempt status. Last year, she acknowledged at a legal conference that the IRS had inappropriately scrutinized the applications of some groups by using “tea party” or other politically charged terms in their names.
After Issa adjourned Wednesday’s session, Lerner and her attorney, William Taylor, stayed at the witness table as Cummings decried the Republican-controlled committee’s investigation as a partisan witch hunt.
DEIRDRE SHESGREEN, ASSOCIATED PRESS