House Counsel: Oversight Committee Can Hold Lerner in Contempt

March 26, 2014

WASHINGTON – Today, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., entered a memo from the House Counsel’s office into the record for today’s hearing. The memo concludes that the Committee has met or exceeded all the relevant legal requirements to proceed to a vote on whether former IRS official Lois Lerner should be held in contempt after her refusal to testify on March 5th.

The counsel directly refutes claims made by Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and his attorney, who erroneously concluded that the Committee did not fulfill the legal requirements for a contempt vote.

“The question, in brief, is whether Ms. Lerner was ‘clearly apprised that the [C]ommittee demand[ed] [her] answer[s] [to its questions] notwithstanding h[er Fifth Amendment] objections…’” the counsel writes. “Based on our review of the record, we believe Ms. Lerner clearly was so apprised for two independent reasons.”

First, the Committee formally rejected her Fifth Amendment claims and expressly advised her of its determination (a fact that she, through her attorney, acknowledged prior to her appearance at the reconvened hearing on March 5, 2014),” the counsel writes, referring to the June 28, 2013 vote that determined Lerner had waived her Fifth Amendment rights. “Second, the Committee Chairman thereafter advised Ms. Lerner in writing that the Committee expected her to answer its questions, and advised her orally, at the reconvened hearing on March 5, 2014, that she faced the possibility of being held in contempt of Congress if she continued to decline to provide answers.”

“For all the reasons stated above, it is this Office’s considered opinion that Mr. Rosenberg is wrong in concluding that ‘the requisite legal foundation… ha[s] not been met,” the counsel concludes.

Lerner was originally invited to testify on May 22, 2013, but refused to answer questions after making a voluntary opening statement. The hearing was adjourned, and Lerner was called back on March 5, 2014, but again refused to answer the Committee’s questions despite the fact that she remained under subpoena.

You can read the entire memorandum here.

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