Think twice before pleading the Fifth.
So says Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who has introduced a bill that would fire any federal employee who refuses to answer questions or gives false testimony at a congressional hearing.
Brooks wrote the legislation after Lois Lerner, director of the tax-exempt organizations division of the Internal Revenue Service, declined to answer questions at a hearing about the agency’s targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
“I’ve been advised by my counsel to assert my constitutional right not to testify or answer questions related to the subject matter of this hearing,” Lerner said at the May hearing.
Brooks took issue with this approach.
“This is a statement which should not be made by federally appointed officials before a congressional hearing if they are faithfully carrying out the duties of their office,” he said in a statement to Government Executive. “That is why I am introducing H.R. 2458, which would terminate the employment of any federal employee who refuses to answer questions before a Congressional hearing or lies before a congressional hearing. This legislation is constitutional and necessary to enable Congress to provide proper oversight for the American people.”
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects witnesses from being forced to incriminate themselves through testimony.
This bill would terminate any employee who refuses to answer questions at a congressional hearing after being granted immunity, employees who do not answer specific and narrow questions related to their official duties -- even if they are not offered immunity -- or an employee who “willfully or knowingly” give false information, as determined by three-fourths of the body to whom the testimony was given.
(Image via Flickr user acuconservative)