Republicans reject Lerner meeting

Republicans reject Lerner meeting
© Greg Nash

House Republican leaders on Monday rebuffed a meeting request from the lawyer for Lois Lerner, who is facing contempt charges for refusing to testify about her role in the IRS targeting scandal.

Seeking to avoid the House contempt vote planned for May, Bill Taylor of Zuckerman Spaeder asked GOP leaders for the chance to directly make the case to lawmakers that the charges against Lerner won’t stand up in court.

Both Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) brushed aside Taylor's request.

"Ms. Lerner can avoid being held in contempt at any time by testifying fully and honestly, but she has chosen not to," Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, said in a statement.

Cantor struck a similar note on Twitter: "The House welcomes the opportunity for Lois Lerner to address our members. She can do so at any time before the House Oversight Committee."

Republicans maintain that Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights by proclaiming her innocence and saying she did nothing wrong in her opening statement at that hearing. In all, Lerner has taken the Fifth twice before the House Oversight Committee.

Taylor insists that Lerner, the figure at the center of the IRS targeting controversy, did not waive her rights against self-incrimination in a hearing in May 2013.

"The law is clear that she did not waive her Fifth Amendment privilege by proclaiming her innocence while invoking her constitutional privilege not to answer questions," Taylor wrote to Boehner and Cantor.

"No court will hold that she waived her privilege," Taylor added. "Holding Ms. Lerner in contempt would not only be unfair and, indeed, un-American. It would be flatly inconsistent with the Fifth Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court."

Cantor has said that the House will vote on the contempt resolution against Lerner in May, after the Oversight Committee and Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) passed the charges this month on a party-line vote.

The full House vote on contempt comes after GOP lawmakers have intensified their investigation into the IRS, an issue that revs up their conservative base.

Congressional committees and the Justice Department have all been investigating the IRS since Lerner apologized for the agency’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status, in May 2013, less than two weeks before her first appearance before the House Oversight panel.

Taylor told GOP leaders on Monday that the contempt charges against Lerner, the former head of an IRS unit that oversaw tax-exempt groups, were the first against a witness taking the Fifth since the 1960s.

Plus, Taylor says that Issa and the Oversight panel didn’t follow correct procedure in attempting to hold Lerner in contempt, in addition to insisting she didn’t waive her Fifth Amendment privileges.

Top Democrats on the committee have made a similar argument — that Issa dropped the ball by not explicitly telling Lerner in a March appearance before the committee that she faced contempt charges if she didn’t answer questions.

Democrats like Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) have also compared Issa’s handling of the Lerner case to the tactics employed by former Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) in the 1950s.

But House Republicans, armed by an opinion from the House counsel’s office, have said Issa and the Oversight Committee checked off all the legal requirements necessary to hold Lerner in contempt.

Issa and other GOP lawmakers have cast their efforts to hold Lerner in contempt as a merely a way to secure her testimony. Cantor’s memo, released on Friday, said the House would not vote to hold Lerner in contempt if she agreed to testify.

Still, a House vote on contempt charges would far from ensure that Republicans got Lerner’s testimony quickly. The House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt in 2012, a case that remains mired in the courts.

— This story was updated at 5:20 p.m.