House Votes to Hold Former IRS Official Lois Lerner in Contempt

Lois Lerner was on the Hill in March to testify. Lois Lerner was on the Hill in March to testify. Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

The House voted to hold former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in contempt on a 231-187 vote Wednesday, as Republicans work to uncover the depth of Lerner's involvement in the agency's targeting of conservative groups from 2010 to May 2013.

Six Democrats broke with their party to support the contempt vote: Ron Barber of Arizona, John Barrow of Georgia, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Nick Rahall of West Virginia, and Patrick Murphy of Florida. All are facing Republican challengers in tough districts for Democrats in November.

"Who's been fired over the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS? No one that I'm aware of. Who's gone to jail for violating the law? When is the administration going to tell the American people the truth?" House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Wednesday morning. "One would have to guess, if they're not willing to tell the American people the truth, it must not be very pretty." 

Lerner was found in contempt of Congress after invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at a House hearing last May. House Republicans argue that, because Lerner gave an opening speech testifying to her innocence in the inquiry before pleading the Fifth, she had waived her right to refuse to testify. Republicans subpoenaed Lerner to testify again in March, when she again asserted her right to remain silent, setting off the contempt proceedings.

The issue is now headed for the courts, where a judge will have to determine whether Republicans' claim that Lerner waived her rights is correct. The House also voted Wednesday to request that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special prosecutor in the case. Twenty-six Democrats, including those who supported the contempt vote, backed this second vote. If convicted, Lerner faces a maximum penalty of a $100,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

This is the second time in as many years that the House has voted to hold a member of the Obama administration in contempt. In 2012, House Republicans and 17 Democrats voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress over his refusal to turn over documents related to the Fast and Furious scandal. That contempt vote went nowhere, as members of the Justice Department announced they would not pursue criminal charges or a grand jury against the head of their own department. The administration later invoked executive privilege over the documents in question.

But Republicans say they feel more confident that the contempt vote against Lerner will be successful. "Eric Holder, of course, is the highest law-enforcement officer in the country. Lois Lerner is not," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La. "And so she doesn't enjoy the same level of protection that he does personally, and also she can't claim executive privilege, which Eric Holder perhaps can."

"There's a fairly substantial difference between asking [Holder] to ... prosecute himself and someone else," a senior House Republican aide said.

But it's unlikely that the administration's response to Congress's holding Lerner in contempt will be any different. Lerner has reportedly already been interviewed by the Justice Department, and anonymous "law-enforcement officials" told The Wall Street Journal in January that no criminal charges would be filed against IRS officials over their targeting of conservative groups. President Obama told Fox News during his Super Bowl interview that he does not believe the IRS displayed "a smidgen of corruption" in the matter.

All the same, Republicans are hopeful that the contempt vote will provide some real pressure for Lerner to testify.

"Ultimately, she's going to be forced to either come forward and testify, or she's going to have to apply for immunity and testify," Fleming says. "And pressure will continue to mount until that happens.... And if not, again, I think there's a lot of mounting evidence against her—criminal evidence—and so we're going to continue to mount the pressure and this is just a next step in that direction."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.