The former IRS official Lois Lerner, who is a the center the controversy surrounding the that agency’s abuse of power in granting some conservative groups certain tax statuses, has found herself in the hot seat.
New IRS emails released by the House Oversight Committee show staff working for Democratic Ranking Member Elijah Cummings.
Rand Paul said it was to encourage Lerner to cooperate with Congress in its investigation.
“The other thing that this brings up is while you have a right not to incriminate yourself in a court of law, do you have the right as a government employee to continue to be paid and not cooperate? I would think we need to change the rules of how we employ people. We’re not going to ask you to incriminate yourself for a criminal investigation but if you’re not going to cooperate, you should have to give up your pay and your pension.”
The House of Representatives has the ability to jail Lois Lerner until January 2015. An editorial in the Washington Examiner explains:
Under the Constitution, the House can do that under its “inherent contempt” authority, which was initially exercised in 1795 during the First Congress and on multiple occasions thereafter. Lerner could be held until January 2015 when a new Congress is seated, which could issue another subpoena and throw her in the clink again if she still balks at testifying.
According to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report, inherent contempt has the unique advantage that it doesn’t require “the cooperation or assistance of either the executive or judicial branches. The House or Senate can, on its own, conduct summary proceedings and cite the offender for contempt.” The prospect of an eight or nine month stretch in the congressional slammer might have a sobering effect on Lerner. On the other hand, neither the House nor the Senate has used this authority since 1935, according to the CRS report, because the process can be “unseemly” and time-consuming.
Plus, Lerner may be on solid ground in thinking Boehner and other House Republicans don’t have the political spine to jail her.
Will the media be able to create a backlash portraying Lerner as a victim of a witch hunt? That certainly seems to be the strategy of Elijah Cummings and the other Democrats who desperately want this scandal to go away. Cummings is now discredited by emails revealing his collaboration with IRS bureaucrats, and the IRS remains a feared and unpopular agency.