Congressman Objects to Lerner Taking 5th: ‘You Don’t Get to Tell Your Side of Story Then Not Be Subjected to Cross Examination’

Elizabeth Harrington | May 22, 2013 | 11:15am EDT
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IRS official Lois Lerner at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

( – Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) was applauded at a congressional hearing Wednesday, after he objected to Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner pleading the Fifth Amendment and refusing to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

After invoking her right to avoid self-incrimination, Lerner, the head of the tax-exempt division of the IRS, was dismissed from the hearing, which is examining the agency’s inappropriate targeting of conservative groups.

After giving a brief opening statement -- in which she said she did nothing wrong -- then refusing to answer any questions, Lerner was dismissed by Committee Chairman Darryl Issa (R-Calif.), who said he had “no choice” but to respect her constitutional right.

Gowdy objected.

“Mr. [Elijah] Cummings [D-Md.] said we should run this like a courtroom, and I agree with him. She just testified,” Gowdy said.  “She just waived her Fifth Amendment right to privilege, you don’t get to tell your side of the story then not be subjected to cross examination.

“That’s not the way it works.

“She waived her right to Fifth Amendment privilege by issuing an opening statement,” he said.  “She ought to stand here and answer our questions.”

In her opening statement, Lerner said she is “very proud of  the work I have done in government.”

“I have not done anything wrong,” she said.  “I have not broken any laws, I have not violated any IRS laws or regulations and I have not given any false information to this or any other committee.”

Lerner headed the IRS division that handled groups applying for tax-exempt status.

According to an audit released by the Treasury Inspector General, during the 2010 and 2012 elections the IRS “targeted” conservative groups with names such as “patriot” in their titles and whose aims included reducing government spending and advocacy to “make America a better place to live.”

Issa has accused Lerner of misleading Congress on at least four occasions in response to the committee’s questions last year on whether the IRS was targeting conservative groups.

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