Boehner: Lerner contempt still in play

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday rejected an argument, circulated by Democrats, that Republicans had blown their shot at holding a central figure in the IRS targeting controversy in contempt.

According to Democrats, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) did not follow proper procedure by failing to make clear to former IRS official Lois Lerner that she risked contempt of Congress charges by not answering questions in a hearing last week.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent that analysis, also signed by two veteran legislative and legal analysts, to Boehner on Wednesday.

“I and the House counsel reject the premise of Mr. Cummings’s letter. I do not agree with that analysis in any way, shape or form," Boehner said at a news conference in the Capitol. "I’ve made clear on more than one occasion that Ms. Lerner should either testify or be held in contempt.”

Boehner added that he was certain the House counsel would release its own opinion "at some point."

Lerner, who formerly headed an IRS division dealing with tax-exempt groups, has invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination twice before the House Oversight Committee, most recently on March 5.

Oversight Committee Republicans ruled after her first appearance, in May 2013, that she waived those rights by insisting she did nothing wrong in an opening statement.

Issa had said he hoped to move quickly on potential contempt charges against Lerner, who many Republicans view as the central figure in their investigation into the IRS's improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups seeking 501(c)(4) status.

But those charges are on hold for the time being, after Issa was forced to apologize for muting Cummings's microphone at last week's hearing.