Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 7, 2016

House Holds Lois Lerner in Contempt Over IRS Scandal (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House voted Wednesday to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress and to instruct the Justice Department to probe her for criminal charges.

The actions mark the culmination of two simultaneous committee investigations into allegations that Lerner knowingly presided over the improper targeting of conservative outside groups seeking tax-exempt status with the agency, including stalling the application process and giving special scrutiny to organizations that appeared to be affiliated with the tea party movement.

One resolution (H Res 574), agreed to on a 231-187 vote, will make Lerner the sixth public official since 1982 to be held in contempt for her refusal to testify before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Lerner cited her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in an appearance last year.

The other resolution (H Res 565), referred by the Ways and Means Committee and supported Wednesday by a 250-168 vote, would call upon Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to appoint a special prosecutor to evaluate whether Lerner should face criminal charges on specific counts of misconduct related to the scandal.

Neither resolution is likely to yield results: The Justice Department is actually under no obligation to appoint a special counsel, and the criminal contempt statute says the U.S. attorney has a “duty” to convene a grand jury in an event of a contempt citation, but it doesn’t appear to be mandatory.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the Justice Department, declined to comment Wednesday on whether Holder would pursue a prosecution of Lerner.

Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold readily acknowledged that he didn’t expect the House’s contempt of Lerner to make a tangible difference. After all, the Department of Justice has yet to move on the 2012 House vote to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for his refusal to comply with a subpoena to testify on “Operation Fast and Furious.”

“But we’ve got to do our job,” Farenthold said.

The votes were seen as a victory for Republicans, who are determined to press the issue and hold the Obama administration accountable in the IRS scandal ahead of the midterm elections.

“There are few government abuses more serious than using the IRS to punish American citizens for their political beliefs,” said Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., during floor debate on Wednesday. “The very idea of the IRS being used to intimidate and silence critics of a certain political philosophy is egregious. It is so egregious that it has practically been a cliché of government corruption in works of fiction for decades since President Nixon’s administration.”

Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., fired back, saying the House actions was reminiscent of late-Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s infamous “witch hunt” of communists in the 1950s.

“Not since McCarthy has this been tried, that is the stripping away of an American citizen’s constitutional right not to incriminate themselves and then holding them in contempt criminally,” Cummings said. “McCarthy. We are better than that. We are so much better.”

Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and others have countered that Lerner essentially forfeited her Fifth Amendment rights when she gave public statements about her innocence, then refused to speak any more on the matter before the congressional panel.

“Ms. Lerner is holding this Congress in contempt!” said Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations.

No Republican broke the party line on either vote, but some Democrats defected. Six of them voted with Republicans to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress and 26 Democrats agreed that Lerner should be investigated by a special DOJ prosecutor.

Democrats launched a formal whip operation against the resolutions.

Katy O’Donnell contributed to this report.


Related stories:

Democrats Protest Issa Push to Force Lerner Testimony

Issa Issues Report Ripping Lerner

Cummings’ Report: No White House Involvement in IRS Scandal

Republicans Ask Holder to Name Special Counsel in IRS Probe

  • Brenda Huddleston

    Finally! Now, let’s keep moving forward, and let people in the government know that we are not going to sit still and have our rights stripped from us.

    • Nicholas DeLuca

      Brenda… What rights have been stripped from you ?

  • dmacid

    Slow pokes—should have been done months ago.

  • Raymon555

    If anybody here is interested in learning how to trade working from home I can suggest a website to you that I recently found and become a member to. The name of the website is Traders Superstore, I believe you can find them on Google. Right now they are running a special too, they didn’t have that special when I purchased. I never traded before in my life and now I love doing it thanks to Traders Superstore, their way of teaching how to trade made it very easy for me to learn.

  • Truth Happens

    Warranted. Late, but warranted. Good news for Justice.

  • Raconteur

    The bipartisan House vote urging Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a IRS special prosecutor will be ignored at the Obama Justice Department.

    President Obama has already declared that there isn’t so much as a “smidgen” of political corruption at the IRS…even though his own Justice Department and the FBI have open, ongoing investigations into IRS wrongdoing.

  • William McKinnies

    What part of what’s so verrrry wrong with this do you fail to understand Nicholas??? Do you realize what a small and shrinking minority you are in that you can’t see the federal government’s abuse of power for what it is???
    No wonder things have gotten to this point, too many people like you, asleep and blindly trusting.

  • Brenda Huddleston

    Nicholas, the right to create a Tea Part organization without the fear of the Federal Government to profile me.

  • Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

    Cummings is most dangerous individual I have ever seen speak in Congress. The man is a kettle ready to blow. Too bad he is on the wrong side of the issue as he is most of the time. When the light of day shines on the rats they can’t take the light nor the heat. Im praying they nail this lady with all power possible.

  • FarOutWest

    My wife has been legally blind since age 7. We claim the 1040 legally blind deduction. We don’t earn that much money, and we don’t have unusual deductions, yet we have been audited 3 of the past 5 years! We know other people who are also visually impaired and legally blind and/or disabled who have been audited also since Obama became President.

    The IRS targets individuals with disabilities, especially those who claim the ‘legally blind’ deduction or medical expenses connected to their disabilities on their 1040 tax return. The IRS blantantly discriminates against those with disabilities, and Congress should investigate and schedule hearings.

    Discrimination against the blind is systemic throughout the US Government, especially the IRS; Congress must ask the difficult questions.

    • Sam Lane

      If the IRS aduted once, one would believe, the IRS would keep previous records of the audit. And would no longer believe there is probable cause to perform a redundant audit.

  • Adam Smith

    When Hussein Obama’s occupation of the White House began, there were about 32 million Americans on food stamps. Today, there are more than 47 million Americans on food stamps.Reference:

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