Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 10, 2016

House Oversight Votes to Hold Lois Lerner in Contempt (Video)

Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the Internal Revenue Service. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted along party lines Thursday to hold ex-IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress.

The vote, coming as Congress heads out of town for a two-week recess, is the latest chapter in a year-long probe that has sparked some of the fiercest partisan clashes among panel members in recent memory — from cutting off the ranking member’s microphone as he sought to speak to comparing the chairman to Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wis.

The animosity is likely to spread, as Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders have signaled their commitment to bringing the contempt measure to the chamber floor in the weeks ahead. It would be the second such contempt vote since the summer of 2012, when, spurred by another Oversight and Government Reform investigation, Republican House members targeted Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

“If Lois Lerner continues to refuse to testify, then the House will hold her in contempt,” Boehner said in a statement Wednesday following the Ways and Means Committee vote to refer Lerner to the Justice Department for a formal criminal investigation.

The 21-12 contempt vote taken by the Oversight Committee Thursday followed nearly four hours of debate and came after Lerner refused to testify on her role in the IRS targeting of conservative political groups seeking tax-exempt status with the agency.

Republicans contend Lerner waived her constitutional right to remain silent because she made statements about her innocence prior to invoking the Fifth Amendment; Democrats argued she has maintained her rights throughout the process.

Members of the majority party said the investigation into the IRS scandal and Lerner’s involvement is about seeking answers for the American people.

“We are here today for one fundamental reason: To get to the full truth about IRS targeting,” Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in his opening remarks on Thursday. “We cannot abandon our responsibility.”

Minority members countered that the GOP exercise is tantamount to “political theater” and represents a “dark day” for the committee.

“I do not direct my comments to my fellow committee members. Instead, my statement is directed to the generations of Americans yet unborn who will learn about this vote in their history books,” ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., said. “I speak to those who are reading the transcript of today’s proceedings 50 or 100 years from now and are trying to understand why Congress — in the year 2014 — tried to strip away an American citizen’s rights under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.”

Issa and Cummings have gone toe-to-toe on a number of occasions in the three-and-a-half years they have been counterparts on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and friction has only increased in the 11 months since the IRS scandal came to light. Cummings has called Issa out for leaking interview transcripts to the press before seeking input from the committee; Issa has accused Cummings of withholding correspondence between minority staff and Lerner’s attorneys.

During the course of Thursday’s business meeting, however, the two lawmakers left it mostly to the rank-and-file members to fire political shots.

“If members want to hold someone in contempt, maybe they should look to the person holding the gavel,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev.

“Please don’t demagogue the chairman,” Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., said later on. “[Democrats] may have a job to do on the other side, but we have a job to do for the American people.”

  • LastMomStanding

    Who were the two Republicans voting against?

  • docb

    At least McCarthy was smart, issa the arsonist and his buddies are only a half box of rocks! More waste of tax payer $$$ for political BS! At least 2 repubs voted against more of this detritus from the ignorant!

    • John Croshaw

      Only a liberal sheeple could possibly not see the massive corruption in the IRS case. You should be ashamed at how blind you have become to the corruption within the Democrat party.

  • GilZimmermanJr

    Well, well. It is now coming out that Mr. Cummings apparently sought and received information about True the Vote thru Ms. Lerner in her official capacity at IRS. This is illegal and Cummings and Lerner know it. THAT’s why we are witnessing all the posturing. This is going to get VERY interesting.

    • Hail_to_the_victors

      What and your surprised? He is black and that is all anyone needs to know.

  • Likely_Suspect

    I hope they send the Sergeant at Arms out to arrest her. Let her attorney bring a writ in Federal District Court seeking her release from contempt asserting her 5th Adm. privilege; that’ll get the ball rolling – hope she has to sit while the case is being litigated & appealed, too – just like the little people (or a YouTube film maker).

    • docb

      It would help if you knew the law…The committee does not have those powers and contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor…!

      Issa was trying to release secure documents again! Farce and a sham!

      • qattah

        true, but “criminal” misdemeanor sounds more like a crime than just misdemeanor and the fine is up to one year in prison and up to $100,000.00.

      • Likely_Suspect

        “First, the long dormant inherent contempt power permits Congress to rely on its own constitutional authority to detain and imprison a contemnor until the individual complies with congressional demands. Second, the criminal contempt statute permits Congress to certify a contempt citation to the executive branch for the criminal prosecution of the contemnor. Finally, Congress may rely on the judicial branch to enforce a congressional subpoena.”

        The committee’s recommendation must be voted on by the entire House, then it becomes a formal contempt citation. This from the Congressional Research Service. Glad I was able to clear that up for you.

        • docb

          Is there something you did not understand about the ‘long dormant power’ and the vote of the entire congress and that the 1857 law was about inherent contempt and to be used to coerce not to prosecute.

          ‘Furthermore, as previously indicated,
          inherent contempt, unlike criminal contempt, is not intended to punish, but rather to coerce
          compliance with a congressional directive.281 Thus, a finding of inherent contempt against an
          executive branch official does not appear to be subject to the President’s Pardon power282—as an
          inherent contempt arguably is not an “offense against the United States,” but rather is an offense
          against a house of Congress. Likewise, it appears that the same arguments would be applicable to
          a potential civil enforcement by Congress.
          The assertion that the legislative history of the 1857 statute establishing the criminal contempt
          process demonstrates that it was not intended to be used against executive branch official is not
          supported by the historical record. The floor debates leading to the enactment of the statute make
          it clear that the legislation was intended as an alternative to, not a substitute for, the inherent
          contempt authority. ‘

          Reading the statue you cited is helpful…Wouldn’t you say!

          • Likely_Suspect

            The idea of jailing a contemnor is that she has the jail house keys in her pocket, yes coercion – all you have to do is comply with the inquiry.

            Is there something about yes, Congress does have that power (to detain & imprison the contemnor) that you don’t understand? You started out saying they didn’t have the power & I didn’t know the law – guess you now concur that arrest & detention is a very real power of Congress to enforce a contempt citation?

            And, yes – there are alternatives as listed: referral to the Executive Branch (which means to DOJ which won’t take action because of the political fallout) or to the Judical branch – which means the same D.C. Federal prosecutor that refused to prosecute Eric Holder’s contempt citation.

            Therefore, if the Republicans in the House want to put some teeth in their action, then locking her up until she agrees to testify is the solution. And her attorney should thereafter file a writ of habeas corpus petitioning a Federal District Court for her release, based upon her 5th Adm. arguments. The Court could rule (setting up the appeals process for whichever side loses) or punt, saying it is a nonjusticiable political question arising in a co-equal branch of government – which again sets up the appeals process on the dismissal..

        • Whit_Chambers

          Likely, you just verbally pistol-whipped the little twerp docb.

          Great job!

    • Orleans

      I’d like to see about a dozen police cars with flashing blue lights and sirens on her street!

  • PLauren

    How long will Cummings be permitted to serve on this committee ?.

    • Likely_Suspect

      Until the optics get too bad for the rest to stomach, just like Charlie Rangel getting the boot from his committee & censured on the House floor. Cummings will hang tough until there’s enough dirt that Pelosi pulls the plug on him. Almost makes you feel bad for him, having his fate determined by Nancy’s good will.

    • Orleans

      until death does him part.

  • pitch1934

    One of these days the thug will not be wielding the gavel. What fun it will be to watch then.

  • AnybodRecognizeMyCountryLately

    Must be based on race
    Right holder? You slim bag

  • Whit_Chambers

    It’s gonna be great seeing Lerner in an orange jumpsuit picking up cigarette butts.

    The american people ought to bring a class action lawsuit against this wretched hag and take every nickel she has.

  • Arcadius

    Lerner can hear those jail doors slammin’!

  • El Capitan

    Even if human nature can sometimes be self-defeating, we should recognize that civilization results from our individual contributions and that making the most of our unique talents is the greatest contribution each of us can make to our fellows.

  • Thomas Aquinas

    Since people tend to wish that challenges be dealt with in a visible structured manner, centralized planning and control can be appealing.

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