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Issa-Cummings Clash Intensifies at IRS Hearing as Lerner Takes the Fifth

“You can’t run a committee like this,” Cummings shouted after Oversight Chairman Issa turned off his microphone.

by
Bill Straub

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March 5, 2014 - 11:58 am

WASHINGTON – Former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner refused for a second time to testify about the agency’s handling of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status during a hearing before the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee that quickly turned hostile.

Lerner, who served as director of the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division at the IRS when questions were raised about the agency’s procedures, repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment rights under questioning from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), despite threats to hold her in contempt.

After about 11 minutes Issa concluded the questioning, saying that he saw “no reason to go forward” in the face of Lerner’s refusal. Issa adjourned the committee despite attempts by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the panel’s ranking member, to be recognized for what he said was “a procedural question” that could end the stand-off.

Issa instead ordered that the microphones be turned off and he attempted to leave.

“You can’t run a committee like this,” Cummings shouted. “We’re better than this. We’re better than that as a country. We’re better than that as a committee. What’s the big deal?”

Issa ordered that the microphones be turned back on – but only temporarily.

“We’re adjourned,” Issa said. “Close it down.”

Cummings erupted.

“I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America,” Cummings said. “I am tired of this. You cannot conduct a one-sided investigation.”

Questioned after the hearing about his actions, Issa said, “Mr. Cummings said he had questions to ask. Instead he began making an opening statement even after the committee had been adjourned.”

The acrimony – which has been growing steadily between Issa and Cummings – deflected attention from Lerner, who Issa earlier said was expected to provide the committee with information it is seeking about the IRS and any possible White House involvement in the process.

At issue are claims that the IRS either slow-walked or denied requests from Tea Party and various other conservative groups seeking designations under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Service Code that permits them to engage in some political activity and protect the identity of donors.

On May 10, 2013, Lerner, while participating in a public forum, revealed that the agency was targeting conservative groups, slow-walking or denying their applications. Three days later the inspector general for the Department of the Treasury released a report concluding that the IRS was using “inappropriate criteria” in reviewing tax-exempt status applications.

These improper reviews, the inspector general said, resulted in “substantial delays in processing” the applications. It also was determined the groups were subject to “unnecessary information requests.”

The next day, Attorney General Eric Holder pronounced the agency’s actions “outrageous and unacceptable” and opened an investigation to determine if any laws were broken. But congressional Republicans have voiced dissatisfaction with the Justice Department’s handling of the issue and spearheaded committee probes into the agency’s functions. Issa noted that the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee has conducted 33 witness interviews and five hearings.

Issa added that the IRS has “not fully cooperated” with the committee investigation, leading to the issuance of three subpoenas. Even then, he said, the agency continues to withhold some of Lerner’s emails that bear on the controversy.

Lerner initially was called to appear before the committee on May 22, 2013. At that time she insisted she had not done anything wrong nor had she broken any laws in conducting her duties overseeing tax-exempt groups at the IRS. But she refused further testimony and would not answer committee questions on advice of counsel.

Subsequently, the committee determined that Lerner waived her rights under the Fifth Amendment when she professed her innocence. She was again called before the committee and Issa said she would testify. But she once again refused on advice of counsel. Issa said the panel will consider holding her in contempt.

“As you can see from our questioning today, we have continued to gather facts around Ms. Lerner’s absence of testimony,” Issa told reporters after the hearing. “It would have allowed us to bring this investigation to a — probably pretty quick close if she had been willing to answers those questions. Without it we will undoubtedly have a few more questions to try to find out things that she could have answered quickly today.”

Cummings, who continued to speak in the committee room despite the absence of a microphone, asserted that the committee has gathered sufficient evidence to show that “the White House did not direct this, suggest it, or even know about it at the time it was occurring. And none of the witnesses or the documents identified any political motivation.”

“The Inspector General, Russell George, told us the same thing,” Cummings said. “He found no evidence of any White House involvement or political motivation.  Instead, the very first line of the ‘results’ section of his report says that it began with employees in Cincinnati who ‘developed and used inappropriate criteria to identify applications from organizations with the words Tea Party in their names.’”

The inspector general also determined that Lerner didn’t learn about the use of the 501(c)(4) criteria until 2011 – a year after it was implemented. Once advised, she “immediately directed that the criteria be changed.” Cummings did concede that there was “evidence of gross mismanagement” around Lerner’s role.

The IRS scandal isn’t the only bump in Issa and Cummings’ rocky relationship.

Two weeks ago, Cummings demanded that Issa apologize for suggesting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have told the Pentagon to stand down in the Benghazi attack response. Cummings told the chairman in a letter that his “accusations are beyond the pale, and you should immediately retract them and issue a public apology.”

Washington freelancer Bill Straub is former White House correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
"When in the course of human events..."
The message for America: Don't give up your guns.
It may be the only power we have left between
Us and the freedoms being taken away daily.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Cummings is a pig
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Issa has thrown in the towel, declared the IRS scandal dead. He did the same thing over the weekend when he conceded that there was nothing more to chase on Benghazi. Clearly Obama's NSA has gotten to Issa, discovered his porn habits or somehow blackmailing him, maybe bringing back the arson, car theft, and insurance fraud investigations. We need a new Chief Inquisitor who is clean enough to pin something/anything on Obama. Issa isn't the guy.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (31)
All Comments   (31)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Time for the GOP to call in the Inquisition and let's have real hearings. Issa is not up to the task; there are other MCs who are but they do not have rank.
In light of the fudging by the WH and the Democrats, let's get the
ball rolling and discover who in the WH ordered the IRS to do the dirty work.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
CUmmings performance was rehearsed and planned

pure theatre for the base

Issa allowed his question, but what Cummings intent was to make a statement=
another rehearsed performance
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
I remember Elijah Cummings quite well from senior high school (Baltimore--1969). He was always the consummate self-promoter; little seems to have changed. He staged that ridiculous scene with Issa because he sensed the walls are closing in on Obama's thugs at the IRS --- hardly a "phony scandal" or "smidgen". If the media were even quasi-balanced, heads would be rolling all over D.C. by now.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
eggzakly
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Cumming is a good shill and did what he was told to do. What will happen in the future with such buffoons and their enablers will be interest to watch, though not for the faint of heart.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
and the fact that Cummings is black, and Issa is not

gives Cummings the opportunity to suggest a race card, when he says

"I am a member of the Congress of the United States. I am tired of this," said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings …"

and not some ........

you get the point, I am sure
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
The amount of unfounded conspiracies put forward in these comments is just hilarious. I'm sure that they'll be confirmed by Fox News and you'll pat each other on the back about how clever you are.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is not the unfounded conspiracies that concern me.

It is the large number of completely founded conspiracies that give me concern.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Amazing that libs see nothing there, but have told us in past that just the seriousness of a charge is all that is needed for a full blown investigation.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Let Lois Lerner be found in contempt of Congress, have the conviction upheld in court and then watch as Eric Holder refuses to put Lois in jail. How can we have a functional government that refuses to obey the law? How can we have a functional government when one entire arty thinks that they have the right to ignore the law? But the greater question is that now the precedents have been set, what happens to the Democrats finer sensibilities when the Republicans start governing using these methods? Obviously they will be enraged that anyone would ever think of not following the law. Once again for those who never got the memo, if it wasn't for a double standard, the Democrats would have no standards at all.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama saw nothing, he heard nothing, he knows nothing. He has been in a coma since he was first inaugurated. His aides only wake him up temporarily by giving him massive electrical shocks when he needs to go golfing or vacationing or read words from his teleprompter condemning all his opponents as one or another kind of vermin.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is just more distraction and smokescreen for what's been going on for years now. The IRS is a political force set up to screw Republicans, and institutions the Dems don't like, and it's run that way more or less regardless of who's in power in the White House or anywhere else. The problem is that if Issa gets to the bottom of this, it's probably going to turn out that Obama *didn't* know specifically about this...because it's the way the IRS does things, they've just been ratcheting it up a few notches in recent years. Notice no one lost their job, and no one will...the Dems tried blaming the low level "rogue" employees to start, but that drew an angry response, so now they're going to stonewall and hope the public and the press gets bored, try and make Issa out to be a conspiracy-monger, and hope the whole thing goes away. Business as usual.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hillary ran the irs when she and bubba were in power. Now its valjar's turn. They are all dirty and the corruption of many of our govt agencies goes on at warp speed to the point where you no longer know who if any you can trust. Especially, while the regime is in power.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
These two deserve each other. Clowns -- BOTH of them.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
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