Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 12, 2016

Democrats Protest Issa Push to Force Lois Lerner Testimony

A House Oversight and Government Reform markup devolved into partisan bickering Friday, as Republicans on the panel ruled that Lois Lerner, the embattled IRS employee at the center of the tea party targeting scandal, waived her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination after she made an opening statement to the committee.

Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to hold a hearing on legal standards to apply in the case first before moving to force Lerner to testify or risk contempt charges. That didn’t sit well with Democrats.

“The chairman is going about this in reverse,” said ranking Democrat Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland. “He’s asking the committee to vote on his resolution first without taking basic commonsense measures to help all committee members, both Republican and Democrat, make reasoned and informed decisions.”

The panel’s chairman, GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California, said such a meeting was unnecessary; he already had the House counsel’s opinion on the matter and had shared it with Cummings, telling the panel’s ranking member just not to “distribute it widely.”

That justification just didn’t work for Massachusetts Democrat John F. Tierney.

“The gentleman’s excuses are lame,” Tierney said.

Cummings noted that he wanted to hear Lerner’s testimony just as much as Republicans, but said hauling her back before the committee  would violate her constitutional rights.

“We should all agree that this is not a responsible record to put forward because it undermines the credibility of this committee and the legitimacy of the resolution itself,” Cummings said.

But Florida Republican John L. Mica said it was the constitutional right of the committee and Congress to conduct its business, and that right “is being attempted to be thwarted by a government employee.”

“I’ve never seen an instance in which a witness would thwart their responsibility in such an offensive manner,” Mica said. “Lois Lerner is, in fact, the poster child for a federal bureaucrat thumbing her nose at Congress.”

“It’s not in the Constitution that there’s a fourth branch that can tell us to go to hell,” Mica said.

Lerner’s opening statement immediately put her in hot water, when she departed from the standard script to declare her innocence.

“I have not broken any laws,” Lerner said on May 22, before she told members she would not be answering questions. “I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”

After the committee completed its business, Pennsylvania Democrat Matt Cartwright held court with reporters to complain about Issa cutting him off during the markup. “It’s amazing to me that we would railroad something like this through,” Cartwright said.

  • Jim Ward

    The whole spin on the groups with “progress” or “progressive” in their names is just nonsense. There were only 20 of such groups applying during the years in question. Yet, there were about 200 other left-leaning groups targeted with search terms including “occupy, green energy, medical marijuana, healthcare reform,” and the like. And, as it turns out, this targeting continued long after the targeting of the Tea Party groups had ended.

    The fact is that right-leaning groups comprised 2/3 of the total tax-exempt applications yet only 1/3 of the 298 groups targeted for heightened scrutiny were from the right. The liberal groups are now coming forward and it is clear that they were subjected to the same letters of inquiry and “intrusive” questions to determine if they were crossing the line from issue advocacy to prohibited political electioneering. In the end, the only groups that had their tax-exempt status denied or revoked were left-leaning.

    Despite the rhetoric from the Republicans, no groups were silenced or prevented from taking part in the 2012 elections as they did not even need to apply to the IRS for 501(c)(4) status and instead only need to “self-declare” as such, go about their business and file a 990 at tax time. Furthermore, the Democrats certainly had no motive to slow down the Tea Party groups, as Tea Party candidates were knocking out establishment Republicans in the primaries and going on to lose to Democrats in the general election.

    This absence of any nefarious motive or actual wrongdoing by Democrats is further illustrated by the results of multiple investigations which have revealed that the targeting originated with a self-described “conservative Republican” IRS civil servant supervised by a Bush appointee while the IRS was being run by a Bush appointee.

    This being the case, the independent inspector general, yet another Bush appointee, needs to himself be subjected to “heightened scrutiny” as he apparently conspired with Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, chairman of the House oversight committee, to cherry pick only the IRS interaction with Tea Party groups in an attempt to fabricate a Nixonian “scandal.”

    A possible Republican conspiracy to manufacture a “soft” coup aside, the fact is that these Tea Party groups absolutely should be further scrutinized as they are likely attempting to skirt the law by applying for tax-exempt status as charitable social welfare organizations when they should properly be categorized as PACs or 527 organizations. Doing this the right way, however, would legally require these groups to disclose their donors. (Just as the DNC and the RNC must do.) And, of course, this would prove what we already know: That the Tea Party groups are not really grassroots organizations at all, but instead are corporate fronts heavily financed by the likes of the Koch brothers to further their agenda of dodging corporate taxation and accountability.

    • Dasrge

      I see…just because we believe in our constitutional rights, smaller government, and holding a government bureaucrats a$$ to the fire when they do something wrong means we require further scrutiny. The Bush blaming days are gone buddy…your masters record is crystal clear and his a$$ is now being put upon the flame. But being a liberal knee bender, the only thing you can do is make this a “republican conspiracy”…how laughable. Don’t bother replying…I don’t want to see your conservative hating diatribe. Go preach to your choir at the Huffinton Post.

    • Dasrge

      And posting the same speech to a dozen different article makes it no more credible. No wonder your not in office anymore. You get tuned out when you spout the same BS rhetoric.

    • Mindy Robinson

      Keep lying to yourself. This is not about party , this about America and freedom. It will be you next, but , of course, when it happens to a lib it’s a problem, when it happens to anyone else , well, they aren’t important. I am tired of creatures like you, time to toss all of you out of America. I have been working on this but no one wants you. It appears you are despised world wide.

      • Jim Ward

        LOL! The guy worried about the IRS scrutinizing so-called charitable social welfare organizations based on their political activities wants to throw people out of the country if they don’t agree with him! That’s rich! You can relax, on the first score at least, as the independent inspector general, a Bush appointee and former prosecutor, Russell George testified that he found “no evidence of malice or political motivation” in the reviews, “or that they were directed from outside the agency.”

  • GraceD

    Issa & the oversight committe are missing the whole point. We should not be giving tax breaks to political groups. The IRS ruling should be abolished & go back to the original — stmt.

    But of course, that wouldn’t work, because this group is on a witch hunt, to bring down the administration. And not to identify & correct problems. The IRS should not be in the position of making these kinds of judgments.

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