The House of Representatives is slated to vote next week on a resolution to hold ex-IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) tweeted on Thursday.
Cantor also announced today that the House will vote on an additional proposal next week calling for US Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special counsel in the investigation into the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups.
The House Rules Committee will vote on bills regarding the two issues on May 6. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
A formal announcement on the imminent contempt vote was made by Cantor during his regular Thursday review of the upcoming floor schedule, Josh Hicks of the Washington Post reported yesterday.
House GOP lawmakers want Lerner punished for twice refusing to answer a congressional panel’s questions regarding the IRS giving extra scrutiny to Tea Party and other conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status.
If the Republican-controlled House approves a contempt charge, as expected, the vote would be the most serious repercussion against any IRS employee handed down as part of a nearly yearlong probe into the targeting scandal, Lauren French and Rachael Bade of Politicowrote yesterday.
The former head of the IRS Exempt Organizations (EO) division, Lerner is one of the key players in the targeting scandal, which came to light almost 12 months ago in a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The EO division is where applications for tax-exempt status are reviewed. Lerner retired from the IRS last September.
During two hearings before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – one on May 22, 2013, and the second on March 5, 2014 – Lerner refused to answer lawmakers’ questions about the targeting scandal and chose to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. She maintained her innocence before declining to answer questions during one of her appearances.
The House Oversight panel on April 10 voted along party lines in favor of holding Lerner in contempt of Congress and requested she face criminal charges for improperly influencing the IRS to take action against conservative organizations, disclosing confidential taxpayer information, and impeding an investigation.
Democrats contend that House GOP lawmakers cannot legally pursue contempt charges against Lerner, arguing that the Oversight committee did not explicitly overrule her Fifth Amendment assertion or clearly direct her to testify or face contempt.
Republicans counter that the committee effectively overruled Lerner’s refusal to testify by voting that she waived her Fifth Amendment right by declaring herself innocent. They also say the committee advised Lerner that she could face contempt charges for refusing to answer questions at the hearing last March.
“If Lois Lerner continues to refuse to testify, then the House will hold her in contempt,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said last month. “And we will continue to shine the light on the administration's abusive actions and use every tool at our disposal to expose the truth and ensure the American people get the answers they deserve.”
Contempt Vote ‘Un-American’
Earlier this week, Lerner’s lawyer, William Taylor III, said in a letter to GOP leaders that holding Lerner in contempt of Congress “would not only be unfair and, indeed, un-American, it would be flatly inconsistent with the Fifth Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court.”
He cited legal precedents – including some from the McCarthy era, when Congress went after alleged communists – to show that courts have refused to uphold contempt-of-Congress citations against witnesses who decline to testify, citing their Fifth Amendment privilege, according to an article by John D. McKinnon of the Wall Street Journal.
Taylor requested “an opportunity to present to the House the reasons why it should not hold Ms. Lerner in contempt.”
According to Hicks’ article, Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel said, “Ms. Lerner can avoid being held in contempt at any time by testifying fully and honestly, but she has chosen not to.”
Cantor: ‘Bring Charges Against Those Responsible’
The House Ways and Means Committee voted 23 to 14 on April 9 to publicly release its evidence against Lerner and to send a letter to Holder requesting he take Lerner to court.
According to Hicks’ article, the Justice Department has said it is conducting an investigation of the IRS’s actions and that the case “remains a priority,” but the Wall Street Journalreported in January that the FBI does not plan to file criminal charges against Lerner.
In a statement on Friday, Cantor said he is pleased that his colleagues – representatives Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Charles Boustany Jr. (R-LA) – have introduced a proposal calling on Holder to appoint a special counsel “to investigate the IRS targeting scandal and bring the appropriate charges against those responsible.”
“After a lengthy and thorough investigation, the House Ways and Means Committee referred Lois Lerner to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution for violating the law by targeting conservative organizations. To date, it appears the Department of Justice has taken no action on this referral,” Cantor said. “There can be no doubt the IRS scandal has undermined the public's trust in our government. This is far too serious a matter to leave to the discretion of partisan political appointees, no matter who is in the White House.”