When Congress is thwarted in our attempts to get answers—as is clearly the case given Ms. Lerner’s willingness to speak with the Justice Department but not to the public’s elected representatives—we have an obligation to hold accountable those hiding the facts. Contempt of Congress is a power the House of Representatives exercised toward only five individuals in the last 30 years. The relevant statute states that any person who “willfully makes default, or who, having appeared, refuses to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry” may be held in contempt. Ms. Lerner’s actions easily rise to a level worthy of contempt and Congress’s institutional integrity demands nothing less.
Additionally, it is necessary to appoint a special prosecutor. Mr. Holder called the IRS matter “outrageous and unacceptable” and ordered a Justice Department investigation to be conducted in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. No one can have confidence in this investigation, started by a politically appointed attorney general and led by a campaign contributor to his boss.
A special prosecutor, uncompromised by partisan political winds, provides hope of uncovering what happened at the IRS. As Elijah Cummings, my Democratic colleague on the Oversight Committee, said on May 22, 2013—the day of the committee’s first IRS hearing—getting the truth and restoring trust must be paramount. “This is more important than one election,” he explained. “The revelations that have come forward so far provides us with a moment pregnant for transformation; not transformation for a moment, but for generations to come and generations yet unborn.”