The House voted 231-187 on Wednesday to find former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress after a heated floor debate led by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
Six Democrats joined Republicans in voting yes: Reps. Ron Barber (Ariz.), John Barrow (Ga.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Nick Rahall (W.Va.).
“Lois Lerner can’t have it both ways. I voted to hold her in contempt because once she decided to give an opening statement; she was obligated to answer questions,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said after the vote. “The American people deserve to hear what really happened at the IRS and why conservative groups were targeted. This action shows that this sort of government instituted political harassment can’t and won’t be tolerated in a free society. The Contempt of the U.S. House of Representatives is a serious matter and one that I don’t take lightly, but there is no doubt the facts of this case warrant this action.”
“Had Ms. Lerner cooperated with our constitutional oversight responsibility on behalf of the American people, we would not have been forced to take this action,” said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). “We expect, and the American people demand, full and truthful answers from this executive branch in these matters. The House will not rest until they are provided.”
The House also passed a resolution — with 26 Democrats in support — calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the targeting of conservative nonprofit groups by the Internal Revenue Service.
“Sadly, the Attorney General has refused to make an appointment, which is well within his purview,” Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said. “That is why I am pleased the House took up and passed a resolution to officially direct him to do so. Answers are long overdue and it is clear a special prosecutor is needed to investigate this scandal fully, fairly, without bias, or undue influence.”
Cummings blasted the vote by accusing Issa of taking “a page out of the playbook of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who tried—and failed—to use this same tactic sixty years ago.”
“Today, House Republicans took a significant step backwards in their duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution by voting to strip an American citizen of her Fifth Amendment rights,” Cummings said in a statement. “…Dozens of independent legal experts have warned that Chairman Issa’s partisan contempt resolution is Constitutionally deficient and will be thrown out of court, but he has ignored these experts and pressed ahead.”
“I am profoundly disappointed that the House Republicans voted down my amendment to have just one hearing with independent legal experts on this grave Constitutional issue before taking today’s vote, and that they blocked my request to release to the public the full transcripts of all 39 interviews the Committee conducted with IRS and Treasury Department employees—transcripts that show there was no White House involvement or political motivation in the screening of applicants for tax-exempt status,” he added.
“After a year of baseless Republican claims accusing the White House of orchestrating the targeting of conservative groups, I continue to believe that Congress should let the American people read the facts for themselves.”
Issa, though, called the vote “a step toward a level of accountability that the Obama Administration has been unwilling to take.”
“To preempt the release of an independent investigation, Ms. Lerner publicly admitted that the IRS division she led had targeted conservatives. After waiving her right to protection from self-incrimination, Lerner had a choice: testify fully and truthfully about what occurred or face criminal contempt. Ms. Lerner refused to testify even after her attorney told Congress she would do so,” he continued.
“Unless the President decides to assert executive privilege, there is no precedent for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to do anything but pursue this criminal case. Absent political interference by the Administration, this legally binding action – as well as a separate resolution calling for a special prosecutor to take over the Main Justice Department’s tainted and dormant investigation – require the Justice Department to take action.”