Email shows Lerner seeking deal with Issa
The House Oversight Committee on Monday released emails between its staff and an attorney for former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner, seeking to back up Chairman Darrell Issa’s assertion that Lerner had agreed to answer questions Wednesday in a public hearing.
Issa (R-Calif.) is recalling Lerner, the former head of the tax-exempt division at the IRS, to testify before his House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee, after she angered lawmakers last year by invoking the Fifth Amendment to refuse to answer questions about the agency’s admission it improperly scrutinized conservative groups.
Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Issa said that Lerner, through her attorney, had agreed to waive her Fifth Amendment rights and answer questions at the committee’s hearing. Lerner had initially sought immunity in exchange for her testimony.
After Issa’s appearance, however, Lerner’s attorney William Taylor disputed his claim and said she still planned to invoke the Fifth Amendment.
Lerner has become a central target for Republicans investigating the targeting of political groups by the IRS. She irked members of the committee last year, when she defended herself in an opening statement but invoked the Fifth Amendment to decline questions from lawmakers.
The committee voted that she had waived her rights by delivering a substantive opening statement, but Taylor said she would not answer questions without immunity or a court order to do so.
The emails released Monday by the committee show Taylor and Oversight counsel Stephen Castor initially discussed an arrangement in which Lerner would answer questions in a closed-staff deposition.
“I can tell you that we can probably move forward if the committee agrees that her appearance at a deposition would satisfy any obligation she has or would have to provide information in connection with this investigation,” Taylor wrote in one email. “For her to take the risk inherent in waiver, she would need assurance she is resolving her issues with the Committee.”
Castor had earlier told Taylor Issa would “consider whether it was still necessary to bring her back” for a public hearing if she answered questions in the deposition but would not provide any guarantees.
Later in the exchange, however, Taylor wrote there had been “a change in our thinking.” He asked Castor to telephone him, and three hours later, Castor wrote to Taylor: “I understand … that Ms. Lerner is willing testify [sic], and she is requesting a one week delay. In talking to the Chairman, wanted to make sure we had this right.”
Taylor offered a one-word reply: “Yes.”
The emails do not shed light on what form and under what conditions Lerner was agreeing to testify.
“As a general practice,” committee spokesman Frederick Hill said in releasing the emails, “the Oversight Committee does not disclose discussions with representatives of private citizens about possible public testimony. In the case of Ms. Lerner, correspondence is being made available to set the record straight on offers made by her attorney about her willingness to testify and answer questions without any grant of immunity.”
— This story was updated at 4:52 p.m.
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