Democrats claim Republican Congressman Darrell Issa’s abrupt adjournment of a Congressional hearing on the IRS last week prevents him from holding former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress due to a technicality.
Issa dramatically ended a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing last Wednesday after Lerner refused to testify about the alleged 2010 IRS targeting of conservative groups. The California Republican cut off the committee’s microphones, not allowing any Democrats to speak.
Now Democratic aides on the committee, backed by two longtime Constitutional lawyers, say Issa failed to take the proper legal steps to adjourn the hearing and make sure Congress could later claim Lerner was in contempt of Congress.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said experts have concluded that Issa committed a “fatal procedural error” and failed “to meet the prerequisites required by the Supreme Court to hold a witness in contempt.”
“These legal experts conclude that by prematurely adjourning the hearing without first overruling Ms. Lerner's 5th Amendment assertion and clearly directing her to answer the Committee's questions, Chairman Issa failed to take the basic but Constitutionally required--steps necessary to hold her in contempt,” the letter reads.
Issa’s office responded in a statement: “This analysis, solicited on a partisan basis, is deeply flawed and at odds with the House’s own expert legal counsel to the Committee. At the hearing, Chairman Issa specifically informed Ms. Lerner of the Committee's formal determination that she had waived her Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions. Before asking a series of questions, he then offered her fair warning that a refusal to answer could lead to a contempt finding, which ultimately must be made by the full House of Representatives.”
Aides believe the issue will drag out and the committee vote on whether Lerner should be held in contempt of Congress could come in two weeks.