Former IRS official Lois Lerner continued to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination as she was called back to testify before a congressional committee about her involvement in IRS policies that targeted conservatives for extra scrutiny.
Lerner was called back before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to testify. Republican members of the committee claim she waived her Fifth Amendment privileges by giving a statement in her previous appearance, but she nonetheless took the Fifth on Wednesday.
The committee hearing devolved into a shouting match at the end, with Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings complaining that he wanted to ask a “procedural question” when Republican committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa tried to adjourn the hearing. Cummings’ microphone was turned off then turned back on, Issa ended the hearing, and Cummings kept yelling about Republicans’ “one sided investigation,” claiming that Issa had “politicized” the issues.
As usual, the Democrats protest too much. An investigation into the abuse of IRS power to harass conservative groups that applied for nonprofit status comes pre-politicized. The real role of Cummings and other Democrats on the oversight committee is to toss as many monkey wrenches into the works as possible in hopes of keeping the investigation from uncovering the source of the IRS’s marching orders.
After Lerner took the Fifth last year, she resigned as the IRS’s director of tax-exempt organizations. Issa said his committee will consider whether to hold her in contempt.
Lerner herself is no small fish. The investigation has pointed to her as being culpable in the IRS’s actions against conservatives. But she’s clearly taken on the part of sacrificial lamb, no doubt in hopes of stonewalling the probe permanently.
Because it still seems awfully strange and unlikely that a high-level IRS official, who presumably knows the laws she broke, would undertake on her own authority a political vendetta just out of the party convictions of her own heart.
And that’s the part that gives congressional Democrats and White House officials sleepless nights.
One of the crimes Richard Nixon was accused of in his articles of impeachment was using the IRS to punish his political opponents.
In the case of the IRS witch hunt against conservatives prior to the 2012 presidential election, there were individuals, not just groups, targeted. If Issa’s committee gets even a whiff of the possibility that Lerner took her orders from one of President Obama’s aides or Obama himself, the articles of impeachment almost write themselves, and precedent would make it near impossible to claim that they shouldn’t be brought to Congress.
Obama at this point is set like Al Capone was in the Prohibition days. There’s a huge, increasingly documented conspiracy swirling around him, but so far nothing concrete connects him to it.
To be sure, there are other impeachment-worthy scandals stalking this White House — Benghazi comes immediately to mind — but the IRS scandal is the one that seems most likely to break.
For Capone, it was finally a charge of tax evasion that brought him down, even though there were murders, robberies and crimes a-plenty he was no doubt involved in. It would be a fitting twist of fate if an abuse of the IRS brought down this president.
The difference between Obama’s IRS scandal and Nixon’s Watergate, besides the enormous scale of the IRS abuses under Lerner’s direction, is that the media are in no hurry to investigate a Democrat’s crimes.
Issa and his oversight committee have a lot of work ahead of them.