By Bernie Becker - 03/05/14 02:10 PM EST
The lawyer for Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the agency’s targeting controversy, on Wednesday accused congressional Republicans of whipping up public anger against his client for their own political benefit.
Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination before the Oversight panel on Wednesday, under a series of questions from Issa. She had first pleaded the Fifth in May, before Republicans on the committee ruled that she had waived those rights by proclaiming her innocence in an opening statement.
“There’s a reasonable expectation of decorum and impartiality, that people are entitled to respect in a congressional hearing,” Taylor said “And as you could tell from today’s proceedings, there was no possibility of that.”
“The objective seems clear to keep this controversy white hot throughout the next election cycle, and pander to anyone who is willing to believe that the IRS was engaged in a conspiracy to suppress conservative groups,” Taylor added.
With the Oversight hearing now adjourned, Issa and House Republicans have fewer avenues to seek information from Lerner. Both Issa and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who is also investigating the IRS’s treatment of Tea Party groups, have said they believe Lerner is the key witness in their probes.
But Taylor on Wednesday warned Republicans against seeking to hold Lerner in contempt, saying he didn’t think a single federal judge in the country would find that his client’s statement amounted to a waiving of the Fifth.
“We’ll see whether the committee has any intent of litigating this matter in the United States District Court,” Taylor said. “I’m confident that if they do, she will prevail.”
“It’s always the gorilla in the room,” Taylor said about the idea of the GOP seeking contempt.
Lerner became the central figure in the IRS controversy last May, when she became the first federal official to apologize for the agency’s improper scrutiny of conservative groups.
Democrats have stressed that, close to 10 months after that admission, there’s no evidence that the scrutiny was politically motivated or in any way tied to the White House. But Republicans maintain that the IRS treated conservative groups far more harshly than their liberal counterparts.
Taylor said Wednesday that he and Lerner made a final decision not to testify after Issa went on “Fox News Sunday” over the weekend and said the retired IRS official had agreed to answer questions, something Taylor said was “flatly untrue.”
The attorney did note that Lerner might have been willing to testify after a one-week delay — something he termed a potential “breather” — and that he had previously discussed the idea of offering Republicans a glimpse of what she might say in exchange for immunity.
Congressional Republicans would have to go to federal court for that to happen, Taylor said. Lerner has sat for a wide-ranging interview with the Justice Department, he added, but said dealing with those federal investigators was different.
“The difference is whether she has to sit there and be accused of being a criminal in public,” Taylor said. “You’ve seen those hearings. If you think those are fact-finding, then I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona for you.”
Taylor also read off two of what he called a half dozen death threats against his client and her family — including one that warned her husband that “fortunately God will not allow the wicked witch to retire with eternal benefits.” The FBI is investigating those threats, he added.
“She would be most pleased never to hear about this anymore,” Taylor said.