Congress received notice that when a top IRS official testifies Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee as scheduled, she’ll be pleading the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions.
Attorney William W. Taylor III submitted a letter to the committee chairman that his client, Lois Lerner, the head of the exempt organizations division of the IRS, will not be offering any testimony of substance due to her intention to exercise her Fifth Amendment right.
Lerner’s division is under fire for improperly targeting conservative organizations that sought to receive tax-exempt status.
“She has not committed any crime or made any misrepresentation,” the Taylor letter said according to the Los Angeles Times. “but under the circumstances she has no choice but to take this course.” The letter was sent Monday to committee Chairman Darrell Issa R-Calif., and obtained by the Times Tuesday.
The Times notes that:
According to an inspector general’s report, Lerner found out in June 2011 that some staff in the nonprofits division in Cincinnati had used terms such as “Tea Party” and “Patriots” to select some applications for additional screening of their political activities. She ordered changes.
But neither Lerner nor anyone else at the IRS told Congress, even after repeated queries from several committees, including the House Oversight panel, about whether some groups had been singled out unfairly.
In a letter sent to Lerner last week, Issa wrote, “It appears that you provided false or misleading information on four separate occasions last year.” More ominously, he warned that misleading Congress “is a serious matter, with potential criminal liability,” according to the National Journal.
Given the circumstances of Lerner’s non-testimony, Taylor asked that she be excused as her appearance would serve “no purpose other than to embarrass or burden her.”
Issa’s answer was to issue a subpoena requiring her appearance.
The right to refuse to offer testimony against one’s personal interest is guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. It should never be held against a witness if chooses to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. That’s the theory — the ideal. The reality is something altogether different.
In actual practice, it’s devastating to a witness’s testimony whenever he utters the words, “I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me.”
Certainly, the ideal outcome would be for Lerner to testify honestly and openly about how, when and why conservative groups were targeted by the IRS. But watching her squirm as she exercises her Fifth Amendment rights in reply to question after question will run a very close second.
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