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House panel alleges Lerner waived Fifth Amendment rights

A Republican-led panel said Friday that the IRS official at the center of an alleged targeting controversy waived her Fifth Amendment rights when she declined to answer lawmakers’ questions in an appearance before the committee last month.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted along party lines to adopt a resolution stating that IRS official Lois Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights because she made assertions of her innocence in an opening statement before invoking her constitutional protections.

Lerner, who has been placed on administrative leave, led the IRS office that allegedly targeted conservative groups for additional scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, an outspoken South Carolina Republican, accused Lerner of making repeated assertions – with the advice of lawyers –  that she’d done nothing wrong before refusing to be questioned by the panel.

“That’s not the way the Fifth Amendment works. You don’t get to tell your side of the story and then avoid the very process that we have in this system for eliciting the truth, which is cross-examination,” Gowdy said.

Democrats on the GOP-controlled committee argued that stripping Lerner of her constitutional protections would be a dangerous precedent.

“Who are we in this committee to take away anyone’s Constitutional rights?” said Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada, who said the meeting amounted to political “grandstanding.” 

During the vote, Rep Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., responded by saying "No, I'm voting no to this McCarthyite tactic."

NBC's Frank Thorp contributed to this report.