The House Oversight Committee will gavel itself into session at 9:30 am ET, according to C-SPAN, in order to take testimony on the IRS’ targeting of conservatives in its tax-exempt enforcement. They won’t get much from Lois Lerner, formerly a pretty big fan of Q&A sessions — when she can plant the questions and prepare the answers. This time, Lerner plans to plead the Fifth as the scandal deepens:
The IRS official in charge of the division accused of improperly targeting conservative groups will invoke her Fifth Amendment rights against compelled self-incrimination at a committee hearing Wednesday, a sign of concern that the political controversy is heading into the criminal arena.
Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS Exempt Organization Division, is still expected to appear at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing but will refuse to answer questions, citing the criminal investigation into IRS actions.
Ali Ahmed, a spokesman for Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Lerner’s attorney had sent the panel a letter but he said Issa “remains hopeful that she will ultimately decide to testify tomorrow about her knowledge of outrageous IRS targeting of Americans for their political beliefs.”
The announcement signaled a potentially dramatic turn in a controversy that has embroiled Capitol Hill and the IRS since the release last week of an inspector general’s reporting describing actions by IRS workers over several years to single out conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status and subject them to intrusive questioning.
Lerner’s attorney tried to get her subpoena revoked by informing Darrell Issa that she would refuse to provide any information. Congressional committees will sometimes excuse witnesses rather than forcing them to plead the Fifth in person, but Issa understands the power of this moment. While the IRS program has generated considerable outrage, some still insist that it doesn’t mean much, and question whether any laws really got broken at all. Having a bureaucrat plead the Fifth on national television makes a pretty good argument that something was going on at the IRS that wasn’t entirely legal.
That’s not to say that there will be much accountability in the end. Not only has no one been fired at the IRS, but no one has even been disciplined — not even with a strongly-worded memo:
“Why weren’t more people fired?” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) demanded at a hearing Tuesday on the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, channeling the frustration of his colleagues.
Turns out it’s not so easy.
In fact, it appears that no one has been formally reprimanded and a spokesperson for the union representing IRS workers said it hasn’t been called to help any employees yet. Most employees involved in the targeting program are covered by protections for federal workers that could drag out the termination process.
The pressure is building: Lois Lerner, the director of the tax-exempt division at the IRS that oversaw the controversial program, will invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Wednesday.
The GOP is also calling for the resignation of Sarah Hall Ingram, an official who used to work in the tax-exempt division and who now oversees the agency’s implementation of the health care overhaul.
It’s not just the bureaucratic obstacles that are at issue, either. The agency itself isn’t exactly jumping through hoops to make itself accountable to Congress, either. CNS News reports that the IRS missed a deadline to provide documentation to another Congressional committee, and in fact hasn’t even bothered to respond to the demand letter:
In a May 14 letter signed by Chairman Dave Camp and Ranking Member Sander Levin, the House Ways and Means Committee demanded precisely those records from the IRS. In the same letter, the committee also demanded the records of any communications between IRS and the Treasury on the matter, plus other information and records that would help the committee understand the facts about IRS actions that subjected to heightened scrutiny conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Chairman Camp and Ranking Member Levin gave the IRS a deadline of Tuesday, May 21 to comply with their committee’s demand for the information and records.
The IRS–which requires working Americans to file their tax returns by an April 15 deadline each year or else face penalties–did not comply with this deadline imposed by the congressional committee that has oversight over its activities.
“The Committee has not received a response to the Camp-Levin letter,” House Ways and Means Spokeswoman Sarah Swinehart told CNSNews.com late Tuesday after the IRS had closed for business for the day.
The Senate sent its own demand letter with a deadline of May 31st. We’ll see if they miss that deadline, too — which will mean both chambers of Congress may start breaking out the subpoenas, and more bureaucrats may start taking the Fifth.
Update: Here’s the live video, from Oversight itself (note: the CBS feed works better, replaced):