WASHINGTON — A House Committee voted Thursday to hold a former Internal Revenue Service official in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions at a pair of hearings.

The official, Lois Lerner, previously headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. Last May, after providing an opening statement, Lerner refused to answer questions at a House Oversight Committee hearing about IRS agents improperly singling out tea party applications for extra scrutiny. She again refused to answer questions at hearing in March.

Lerner cited her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The Oversight Committee voted 21-12 Thursday to hold her in contempt. All Republicans voted in favor and all Democrats voted against.

Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Lerner had effectively waived her Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions by providing an opening statement at the 2013 hearing. In her statement, Lerner said she did nothing wrong, broke no laws and never lied to Congress.

“We need Ms. Lerner’s testimony to complete our oversight work,” Issa said. “American taxpayers certainly don’t get to plead the Fifth and escape all accountability when the IRS audits them.”


Lerner’s lawyer and Democrats on the committee disagree that she waived her constitutional rights by making an opening statement.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the oversight committee, has compiled a growing list of constitutional experts who say the contempt case is weak. Some say Lerner did not waive her rights while others say that even if she did, Issa didn’t follow proper procedures for holding her in contempt.

“The vote is the latest event in the majority’s never-ending effort to keep the IRS story alive through this fall’s midterm elections,” said Lerner’s lawyer, William W. Taylor III. “Ms. Lerner did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights by proclaiming her innocence. Issa countered with a memo from the House general counsel’s office that says he followed proper procedures.

The matter now goes to the full House.

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