Why bring Lois Lerner back to testify now at a House Oversight hearing? Lerner famously — and arguably defectively — took the Fifth Amendment at a previous Oversight hearing in May 2013, after first issuing a statement declaring that she had broken no laws. The committee then ruled her use of the Fifth Amendment invalid, and threatened to haul her back again — where Lerner would likely take the Fifth again. Instead, Oversight has supposedly been negotiating with Lerner’s lawyers to provide testimony in exchange for some sort of immunity.
Those efforts have apparently gone nowhere, and Darrell Issa wants her back in front of the committee next week:
Issa told Lerner’s attorney in a Tuesday letter that he expected the retired IRS official to appear before his committee on March 5. …ADVERTISEMENT
In his letter to William Taylor, Lerner’s attorney, Issa said that her testimony “remains critical to this committee’s investigation.”
“Because the committee explicitly rejected her Fifth Amendment privilege claim, I expect her to provide answers when the hearing reconvenes on March 5,” Issa wrote.
Ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (MD) called this an election-year stunt, which may be a bit offensive of a characterization given the developments on Lerner’s activities since her last appearance nine months ago. At the very least, Lerner should be asked about the “off-plan” attempts to change the rules at IRS in order to allow the agency to go after conservative 501(c)(4) groups. Those rules hadn’t changed in over 50 years, and it’s more than just curiosity to wonder why a political operative like Lerner wanted to make those changes under the radar and avoid any outside scrutiny, especially with the rest of the revelations we’ve seen at IRS.
On the other hand, it doesn’t appear that we can expect much out of Lerner either, unless Issa and Taylor have reconciled over her testimony. Lerner has since retired from the IRS, and she has even less to lose with a Fifth Amendment claim than before. If Issa is calling her without any progress on getting her cooperation, then the word stunt might be applicable, even if it’s not really going to affect anyone’s election — especially in a March 5th appearance.
It might be a good way to highlight the House Republican plan to prevent Lerner’s “off-plan” plans from moving forward, though:
The GOP-led House voted Tuesday to block the IRS from asking about religious, political, or social beliefs, and to require the embattled agency to notify taxpayers when their information has been shared with other government agencies.
The Protecting Taxpayers from Intrusive IRS Requests Act, introduced by Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., in the wake of the IRS targeting scandal, would limit what the agency can ask taxpayers and overhaul the process for groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Roskam said IRS efforts to get details on the operations of several conservative groups dating back to early 2010 was a “shameful abuse and a shameful scandal,” The Hill reported.
The House also approved the Taxpayer Transparency and Efficient Audit Act, which would require the IRS to inform taxpayers when the agency has shared their tax information with another government agency and limit IRS audits to one year.
The re-emergence of Lerner, and perhaps especially with another televised recitation of a Fifth Amendment claim from a (former) public servant, might put pressure on Senate Democrats to put an end to these specific abuses at IRS. If so, then it’s time well spent, “stunt” or not.