Oversight Committee to Consider IRS Targeting Contempt Finding

April 3, 2014

Washington, D.C. – House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) today announced that the Committee will convene for a business meeting on Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 9:00 AM in room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building to consider a resolution holding Lois G. Lerner, former IRS Director of Exempt Organizations, in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions before Congress on May 22, 2013 and March 5, 2014, at a hearing entitled, “Targeting Americans for their Political Beliefs.”

“Documents and testimony point to Lois Lerner as a senior IRS official responsible for conduct that deprived Americans of their rights to free speech and equal protection under our laws,” said Issa.  “Americans expect accountability and want Congress to do all it can to gather relevant evidence about what occurred and who was responsible so that this never happens again.  Ms. Lerner’s involvement in wrongdoing and refusal to meet her legal obligations has left the Committee with no alternative but to consider a contempt finding.”

Ms. Lerner presided over the IRS division where targeting and improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups took place. She, herself, directed unprecedented scrutiny of Tea Party applicants and worked on new restrictive rules for non-profits after President Obama and other prominent Democrats expressed outrage at the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.  Lerner is the only IRS official who has refused to testify before Congress in the IRS targeting investigation.  At one point her lawyer actually told the Committee she was ready to testify publicly, but subsequently rescinded that offer.

The Committee released the report, “Lois Lerner’s Involvement in the IRS Targeting of Tax-Exempt Organizations”, on <bMarch 11, 2014.  As Ms. Lerner is the only IRS official who has refused to testify to Congress, this report is based on e-mails, documents, and other testimony about her role in targeting and efforts to mislead investigators about improper conduct. The Oversight Committee continues to conduct a broad investigation of IRS targeting abuses beyond Ms. Lerner’s personal role.

Additional background about the contempt process:

Contempt of Congress, as defined in 2 U.S.C. §192 states as follows:

Every person who having been summoned as a witness by the authority of either House of Congress to give testimony or to produce papers upon any matter under inquiry before either House, or any joint committee established by a joint or concurrent resolution of the two Houses of Congress, or any committee of either House of Congress, willfully makes default, or who, having appeared, refuses to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than [$100,000] nor less than $100 and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months.

On March 26, 2014, the House Office of General Counsel wrote a memo to Chairman Issa refuting claims brought forward by Members of the Democratic Minority that the Committee had not followed procedures necessary to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress.  The memo notes the significance of the fact that the Committee passed a resolution, on June 28, 2013, that Ms. Lerner had in fact waived her Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions.

If the full House of Representatives ultimately holds Ms. Lerner in contempt, the statute directs the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia “to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.”  While in two past instances House contempt findings have also been accompanied by resolutions authorizing civil action, each still included a criminal contempt finding.  Civil action has only been authorized in cases where the President of the United States has asserted executive privilege over documents or testimony.  To date, President Obama has not asserted executive privilege to prevent Ms. Lerner’s from testifying.

The April 10 proceeding will be open to the public and debate by Members of the Committee.

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