By Bernie Becker and Erik Wasson - 05/23/13 06:21 PM EDT
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is poised to bring IRS official Lois Lerner back before his committee.
Issa said Thursday he had concluded that Lerner waived her rights against self-incrimination when she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights at a Wednesday hearing.
Lerner, who runs an IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, defended her actions in an opening statement before invoking the Fifth, and Republicans say that meant she had waived her privileges against self-incrimination.
Issa recessed – rather than adjourned – Wednesday’s hearing, which keeps Lerner under the original subpoena.
Issa told reporters on Thursday that he had no plans to trick Lerner into waiving her Fifth Amendment rights, and that the IRS staffer brought the current situation on herself.
"I had a script which would have allowed her to take the Fifth and leave. Instead she gave testimony under oath. That testimony was germane and she specifically refuted allegations,” the California Republican said.
Lerner, in her opening testimony, said that people might suspect she was guilty of something because she was invoking the Fifth. But, she stressed, she had broken neither laws nor IRS regulations, and the right against self-incrimination existed to help protect innocent people.
Issa and Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), another senior Republican on the Oversight panel, have said that Lerner consistently misled them about the IRS's targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
“It’s not something where you can put the genie back in the bottle,” Issa said Thursday. “She said she was going to take the Fifth. She came represented by competent counsel and then she chose not to.”
Some Republicans, like Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.), had wanted Issa to keep Lerner at Wednesday's hearing after the opening statement, but the California Republican released her.
“She did waive her rights and we are now working with both our counsel and her counsel," Issa said Thursday. "Perhaps her lawyer will recognize that she waived her rights and everything she said [Wednesday] is subject to perjury and other proofs."
Lawmakers are heading out of Washington for Memorial Day recess starting on Thursday, making June the earliest that Lerner could be hauled back before the committee.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, has said that Lerner should be given “the benefit of the doubt” on the Fifth Amendment, and that a congressional hearing room is not the same as a federal court.
Legal experts have said that Lerner opened herself up to the argument that she had waived her Fifth Amendment rights with her opening statement, but that it remained an open question whether she had dropped her privilege.
Issa on Wednesday said that he thought Lerner had “effectively” waived her rights.
This story was first posted at 11:53 a.m. and has been updated.