The GOP-led House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to hold the former IRS Director of the Exempt Organizations division in contempt of Congress. The vote came as a result of Lerner’s refusal to testify on the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative organizations.
The final vote on the contempt charge against Lerner was 231 to 187. All 225 House Republicans voted in favor of the contempt charge, along with 6 House Democrats.
“It’s time for Lois Lerner to account for her actions,” said John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, after the vote. “And if she won’t, then the full force of the law should be brought to bear.”
House Democrats expressed their frustration at House Republicans who led the passage of the charge against Lerner.
“[This vote represents] a significant step backwards in their duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution by voting to strip an American citizen of her Fifth Amendment rights,” said Democrat Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland.
Despite the criticism from their opposition, House Republicans believe putting more pressure on Lerner to testify is necessary in order for officials to conduct a complete investigation of the IRS targeting scandal. In May 2013, Lerner appeared before Congress on two occasions to testify as to what she knew about the IRS targeting schedule. On both occasions, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Lerner refused to testify during her second appearance in spite of warnings that she could be held in contempt of Congress, even after House representatives informed her that an initial statement by Lerner on the matter at the start of her first appearance effectively waived her right to protection against self-incrimination.
“Thorough investigations by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee as well as the Ways and Means Committee have revealed findings that indicate that Ms. Lerner played a central role in the illegal targeting of conservative groups by the IRS,” noted Eric Cantor of Virginia, House Majority Leader.
With the resolution passed to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress, the decision to formally prosecute Lerner for the charge now rests in the hands of Ronald Machen, the Department of Justice’s United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.
“We will carefully review the report from the speaker of the House and take whatever action is appropriate,” read a statement released by Machen’s office after the vote.
William Taylor, Lerner’s defense attorney, proclaimed Lerner’s innocence after the vote.
“Ms. Lerner has not committed contempt of Congress,” said Taylor. “She did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights by proclaiming her innocence. We provided our legal analysis to the Committee and the House, and we received no response. It is unfortunate that the majority party in the House has put politics before a citizen’s constitutional rights.”
Taylor’s mention of politics is based on his belief the contempt charge was brought against Lerner in order to keep the IRS targeting scandal in the news leading up to the September 2014 elections.
House Passes Resolution Requesting Special Counsel to Investigate IRS
The House also voted to pass a resolution requesting that the Department of Justice install a special counsel to investigate the IRS. The House passed the resolution requesting the special counsel by a vote of 250 to 168.
The request for a special counsel comes as many members of the House of Representatives believe Barbara Bosserman, the Department of Justice trial attorney appointed to lead the investigation of the IRS to date, has failed to conduct the investigation in an objective and thorough manner. Bosserman is a known supporter of President Obama, having contributed to his and other Democrat campaigns in several elections.
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Mark has been a contributor to legal web sites related to bankruptcy, tax, and criminal law since 2011. He has an Accounting degree from Texas A&M University.