House votes contempt citation for Lois Lerner
In a mostly party line vote, the House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of congress for refusing to testify on the IRS targeting scandal.
Six Democrats joined all voting Republicans in voting for the measure.
It was 362 days ago that Lerner revealed the IRS practice of targeting conservative groups at a luncheon meeting of attorneys. Since then, Democratic outrage has turned to circling the wagons as the party desperately tries to deflect blame from the White House, while still urging the IRS to pass new rules that would severely curtail political activity by conservative non profit groups.
On a 231 to 187 vote, the House approved a contempt citation against Lois G. Lerner, whose admission last year that the tax-enforcement agency had targeted conservative groups infuriated lawmakers in both parties, led to an overhaul of the IRS and Lerner's eventual retirement from government service.
Six Democrats -- a band of moderates and others facing difficult reelection challenges -- joined with all voting Republicans to approve the contempt charge.
Now the matter will be referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. The contempt charge will then be referred to a grand jury for further review, but it is unclear how the Justice Department will proceed. Politically, however, House Republicans will be able to declare victory after working swiftly in the last year to investigate the matter and hold a senior IRS official accountable for the agency's decision and her unwillingness to cooperate with a congressional investigation.
If ever convicted, Lerner could face between one and 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $100,000.
With Wednesday's vote, Lerner becomes one of only a handful of government officials found in contempt of Congress in recent years. Most recently, the GOP House voted in 2012 to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt for withholding documents related to a failed gunrunning operation. During the George W. Bush administration, his chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten and the White House counsel, Harriet Miers, were held in contempt by a Democratic-controlled House.
Now comes the legal wrangling over the question of whether or not Lerner legally invoked the Fifth Amendment at the original hearing. House Republicans say that because she gave an opening statement before invoking, she lost the protection of self incrimination meaning she was obligated to cooperate. Republicans also point to an interview conducted by the Department of Justice with Lerner and her attorney during which she did not invoke her rights. DoJ still refuses to tell Congress what was discussed during that interview.
Don't expect the Justice Department to rush this case to the courts. They will claim their own investigation - headed up by a lawyer who donated generously to President Obama's presidential and senate campaigns - will have to be completed first.
Meanwhile, the House also passed a measure calling for a special prosector to be named in the IRS targeting scandal.
Separately, the House also passed a resolution Wednesday evening that called on Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS's targeting of conservative groups. Lawmakers voted 250 to 168 to pass the resolution; 26 Democrats joined all voting Republicans to approve it.
The Justice Department has said it is conducting an investigation of the IRS’s actions and that the case "remains a priority."
It's heartening to see 26 Democrats - about 15% of the caucus - joining Republicans for the vote on a special prosecutor. But the reality is that it was a painless vote; there's no chance Holder will accede to requests to name a special prosecutor so it was a risk free, politically advantageous vote for those Democrats.
Outrage at the Justice Departments' inquiry being headed up by an Obama partisan doesn't seem to matter. No doubt, we will not be suprised that Justice fails to find "a smidgeon" of corruption at the IRS as a result of the targeting scandal.