May 22, 2013

Who else has taken the 5th? Baseball star, banker, more

An IRS official is just one of many well-known witnesses who have refused to answer Congress' questions.

WASHINGTON — The baseball star, the Hollywood 10, Oliver North. And Lois Lerner of the IRS.

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In this Dec. 18, 1986 file photo, Oliver North is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington prior to testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Lois Lerner of the IRS joins a diverse roll call of people who have invoked their Fifth Amendment right not to answer lawmakers’ questions over the years. North cited his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer committee question availing the Iran arms sale. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

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In this March 17, 2005 file photo, former Major League baseball player Mark McGwire testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington during a hearing on the use of steroids in professional baseball. Lois Lerner of the IRS joins a diverse roll call of people who have invoked their Fifth Amendment right not to answer lawmakers’ questions over the years. McGwire, sometimes choking back tears, wouldn’t say whether he had used steroids while hitting a then-record 70 home runs in the 1998 season. McGwire later admitted use of steroids and human growth hormone. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

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The official enmeshed in a probe of the tax agency is the latest on a roll call of witnesses called before Congress who refused to answer lawmakers' questions.

A few well-known names who invoked Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination:

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White House gate crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi declined to tell lawmakers in 2010 how they sailed past the Secret Service to attend President Barack Obama's first state dinner uninvited.

They were shadowed to the dinner by a film crew for a show then in the making, the "Real Housewives of D.C." Mrs. Salahi became a regular and also appeared on "Celebrity Rehab."

The couple later divorced, after he accused her of an affair with rock guitarist Neal Schon of Journey.

Neither faced criminal charges for party crashing.

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Former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire, one of the biggest stars of baseball, wouldn't answer questions at a 2005 hearing on steroid use.

He was asked again and again: Did he use illegal steroids to hit a then-record 70 home runs in 1998?

Choking back tears at times, McGwire said his lawyers advised him not to answer. "I'm not here to talk about the past," he said.

Years later, McGwire acknowledged use of steroids and human growth hormone.

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Lobbyist Jack Abramoff invoked the Fifth Amendment at a 2004 hearing about his suspicious dealings and exploitation of Indian tribes with casinos.

Senators' accusations of "greed run amok" blossomed into a giant bribery and influence-peddling scandal that led to more than 20 convictions of lobbyists, lawmakers, congressional aides and others.

After serving a 3½-year prison sentence, Abramoff declared that most of the senators who lobbed questions at him that day were hypocrites who had taken thousands of dollars from his clients and firms.

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Former Enron chief Kenneth Lay and four other executives refused to talk in 2002 about the giant energy company's sudden financial collapse.

After being berated for more than an hour by senators who called him a con artist and a carnival barker, Lay read a brief statement declaring his "profound sadness about what has happened to Enron" and asking lawmakers not to assume he was invoking the Fifth because he had "something to hide."

Lay was convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges in 2006 and died before his sentencing.

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Charles Keating Jr. declined to answer questions in 1989 at a hearing on the collapse of his Lincoln Savings and Loan, which wiped out many investors' life savings and cost taxpayers $3.4 billion.

Keating departed in a Cadillac limousine, leaving behind a press release that blamed the bank's troubles on bad federal regulations and took a swipe at lawmakers' competence.

The case was a flashpoint in the larger S&L bankruptcy crisis and sparked the Keating Five ethics investigation of senators who intervened with regulators on the banker's behalf.

Keating was convicted of fraud and served five years in prison.

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Oliver North and John M. Poindexter, national security aides to President Ronald Reagan, initially pleaded the Fifth during the Iran-Contra hearings in 1986.

North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, said lawyers advised him to "avail myself of the protections provided by that same Constitution that I have fought to support and defend."

North and Poindexter later testified in televised hearings under a deal that promised them limited immunity. That grant of immunity eventually would lead an appeals court to overturn their criminal convictions.

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Playwright and screenwriter Lillian Hellman in 1952 was among those blacklisted because they refused to testify before Sen. Joseph McCarthy's communist-hunting committee.

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions," she told the House Committee on Un-American Activities in a letter.

Other film industry figures who took the Fifth and were sentenced to jail for contempt of Congress became known as the "Hollywood 10."

McCarthy branded those who refused to talk "Fifth Amendment communists."

 

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