Issa Turns Off Mic, Tries to Silence Cummings and Democrats at IRS Hearing
Read What Issa Does Not Want You to Know
Washington, DC (Mar. 5, 2014)—During a hearing today before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa posed questions for approximately 15 minutes to former IRS official Lois Lerner, who stated, as she had nine months ago, that she was invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
When it came time for the Committee’s Ranking Member, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, to take his turn for questions under Committee and House Rules, Issa quickly adjourned the hearing, turned off Cummings’ microphone, and refused to allow him to make any statement or ask any questions.
Cummings immediately protested, stating: “You cannot have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that. And it’s absolutely un-American.” Issa then returned, turned on Cummings’ microphone, and allowed him to begin his statement.
However, when it became clear that Issa did not like what Cummings was saying, Issa again turned off Cummings’ microphone and repeatedly signaled to Republican staff with his hand across his neck.
Cummings proceeded to read his statement and questions in the hearing room as all of the Committee’s Republicans fled the hearing room.
Below are Ranking Member Cummings’ prepared remarks:
Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings
Hearing on “The IRS: Targeting Americans for Their Political Beliefs”
March 5, 2014
Mr. Chairman, I have one procedural question, but first I would like to use some of my time to make a few brief points.
For the past year, the central Republican accusation in this investigation has been that this was political collusion directed by—or on behalf of—the White House. Before our Committee received a single document or interviewed one witness, Chairman Issa went on national television and said this: “This was the targeting of the President’s political enemies effectively and lies about it during the election year.”
He continued this theme on Sunday when he appeared on Fox News to discuss a Republican staff report, claiming that Ms. Lerner was “at the center” of this effort to “target conservative groups.” Although he provided a copy of his report to Fox, he refused my request earlier this week to provide it to Members of this Committee.
The facts, however, do not support these claims. We have now interviewed 38 employees who have all told us the same thing—that the White House did not direct this, suggest it, or even know about it at the time it was occurring. And none of the witnesses or the documents identified any political motivation.
The Inspector General, Russell George, told us the same thing. He found no evidence of any White House involvement or political motivation. Instead, the very first line of the “results” section of his report says that it began with employees in Cincinnati who “developed and used inappropriate criteria to identify applications from organizations with the words Tea Party in their names.”
Our Committee confirmed this fact when we interviewed a Screening Group Manager from Cincinnati. This manager explained that his employees were the ones who first came up with inappropriate search terms in 2010. He denied any political motivation, and he made his point by explaining that he is a “conservative Republican.” I released his entire interview transcript eight months ago for anyone who wants to read it for themselves.
The Inspector General’s report also found that Ms. Lerner did not discover the use of these criteria until a year later—in 2011. When she learned about them—and I quote again from the report—Ms. Lerner “immediately directed that the criteria be changed.” Mr. George’s chief investigator also reviewed more than 5,500 emails from IRS employees and—again—found no evidence of political motivation.
Over the past year, our Committee has obtained hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and interviewed dozens of witnesses. The IRS has spent more than $14 million responding to congressional investigations. But we have identified absolutely no evidence to support allegations of a political conspiracy against conservative groups.
What we have identified, however, is evidence of gross mismanagement. Ms. Lerner failed to discover that employees were using these search terms for a year, and even after she ordered them to stop, they returned to using similar inappropriate criteria. And, like former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman, Ms. Lerner failed to inform Congress about what she knew.
So I do have serious questions for Ms. Lerner, and I am disappointed I will not get to ask them today. But I do not support the Republican conclusion that she waived her Constitutional rights nine months ago when she invoked the Fifth Amendment, and I do not believe a court would uphold that conclusion.
Now, Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask my procedural question. On February 26, Ms. Lerner’s attorney sent a letter to the Committee saying that he met with your staff last month. At that meeting, her attorney wrote, “The staff asked if I would provide a proffer of the testimony she would give if immunized, and I agreed to do that.” But that did not happen.
As I understand it, accepting a proffer does not grant immunity to the witness. It does not bind the Committee in any way. Instead, it allows the Committee to obtain information without requiring the witness to waive her Fifth Amendment rights. I was not invited to the meeting last month with Ms. Lerner’s attorney, and I have not been included in any negotiations. But it seems to me that the Committee loses nothing by accepting this proffer, and in fact we may gain important information.
To prepare for today’s hearing, we sought the legal opinion of Stan Brand, who served as the General Counsel for the House of Representatives from 1976 through 1983. According to Mr. Brand, a proffer is “simply a representation of what a witness’s testimony would be if called given by the attorney for the witness.” Mr. Brand makes clear that accepting a proffer does not grant the witness immunity. He states: “It is not a waiver of the privilege and thereby preserves the right of the witness to assert it in any subsequent proceeding.”
So Mr. Chairman, my question is whether the Committee can schedule a time—preferably this week—for all Committee Members to hear the proffer from Ms. Lerner’s attorney. Mr. Chairman, can we do that?