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Lois Lerner
Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite
Lois Lerner

Will Lois Lerner plead the Fifth again?

IRS Scandal | Suspense builds around IRS official's congressional appearance on Wednesday

UPDATE (10:45 a.m.): Lois Lerner, the former director of the IRS tax-exempt division, refused to testify again this morning at a meeting of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Lerner's attorney had indicated she might be willing to answer questions, but after chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called the meeting to order, Lerner again invoked her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

EARLIER STORY: WASHINGTON—A disgraced Internal Revenue Service official is keeping Capitol Hill in suspense as a hearing in which she is scheduled to testify looms Wednesday.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has summoned Lois Lerner, former director of the IRS tax-exempt division, to re-appear at a hearing suspended last year, but it’s unclear whether she will answer questions about illegally targeting conservative groups or again invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

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Oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., on Sunday told Fox News that Lerner’s attorney, William Taylor, had confirmed his client would answer questions. But Taylor disputed that claim a short time later, saying he didn’t know what prompted Issa’s statement. In response, Issa’s staff released emails from Taylor that seem to indicate he initially said she would testify.

As it stands now, according to the GOP-controlled committee, Lerner wants a one-week delay before providing testimony. The committee may grant the delay, but she will have to make the appeal in person on Wednesday. Many observers believe she will ultimately take the Fifth again, based on comments Taylor made last week in a letter to Issa saying his client fears for her life and will not testify without being granted immunity.

On May 10, 2013, the IRS targeting exploded into the national spotlight when Lerner, responding to a planted question at an American Bar Association event, apologized for the agency improperly scrutinizing conservative groups in the 2010 and 2012 elections. Later that month, Lerner appeared before the Oversight committee, read an opening statement declaring her innocence, then invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Issa, asserting her opening statement effectively waived her right not to testify, only recessed the hearing, allowing him to recall her at any time for the remainder of the 113th Congress.

Republicans want to question Lerner not only about why the IRS singled out groups with conservative names, but also about the development of proposed rules for 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations that would dramatically reign in their activities. The administration has cast the changes as a clarifying response to the targeting revelations, but Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the administration “fabricated” that rationale.

Last month, Camp released a 2012 email between Lerner and a senior Treasury Department official discussing plans to change the rules, and other emails show the IRS was laying the groundwork as early as 2011. Camp's committee is still trying to obtain thousands of documents from Lerner, who retired from the IRS in September.

At a hearing on the IRS targeting scandal last month, Jay Sekulow, the attorney for 41 targeted groups who are suing the government, said recent developments have made clear why Lerner took the Fifth. He said he would have advised her to do the same thing if he was her attorney. 

J.C. Derrick
J.C. Derrick

J.C. is a reporter in WORLD's Washington Bureau. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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