Lerner, the former head of the IRS’s tax-exempt branch, twice appeared in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and declined to respond to questions, citing her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. The panel is investigating the IRS's alleged targeting of conservative groups.
Republicans say Lerner waived those rights after making an opening statement declaring she was innocent during the first hearing in May 2013. She has since left the IRS.
“We cannot tell the American people that we have done all we can do to get to the truth in this investigation if we if we offer a pass to a critical witness like Ms. Lerner,” said committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista).
Democrats argued she had not waived her rights and that Issa had not followed the proper procedures to justify holding her in contempt.
Lerner “has invoked her 5th Amendment rights, and that’s it. The end,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).
Several Democrats compared Issa's proceeding to the anti-Communist campaign led by former Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.
Lerner’s attorney William Taylor III wrote in a statement that Lerner “has done nothing wrong,” and that “not a court in this country” would hold her in contempt of Congress.
House Republicans took another step against Lerner this week by referring her actions to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation.
The Justice Department is already investigating the IRS' activities. The Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration said last year that the agency's targeting of certain groups was probably a result not of political bias but of mismanagement. In addition to conservative groups, the IRS also targeted some progressive groups for extra scrutiny.
The contempt resolution must be approved by the full House, before being considered by a federal judge. With the public support of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), it is expected to pass the House.