House counsel: Lerner can be held in contempt

The House counsel’s office has ruled that Republicans can move to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt, according to a memo released by Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa’s office on Wednesday.

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The counsel’s office said that Issa (R-Calif.) and the Oversight panel had explicitly told Lerner, the retired official at the center of the targeting controversy, that they had ruled that she had waived her Fifth Amendment rights.

Plus, the memo adds, Republicans had made clear they expected Lerner to answer questions when she returned for a hearing earlier this month.

Lerner, who first acknowledged and apologized for the IRS’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups, has invoked the Fifth Amendment twice before House Oversight – first in May 2013, and three weeks ago.

Republicans ruled that she waived the Fifth in that first appearance by saying she had done nothing wrong in an opening statement.

Democrats had questioned whether Issa (R-Calif.) and GOP lawmakers could move forward with contempt charges, circulating an analysis that said that Issa had dropped the ball by not explicitly warning Lerner that she faced contempt if she didn’t answer questions.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is among the top Republicans who has said that the GOP should seek contempt charges against Lerner. Issa had said that he would move quickly on those charges, but has not moved forward since Lerner’s last appearance, when he cut the microphone of the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.).