In the latest instance of the inmates running the asylum, or the crooked cops running the precinct, or whatever trips your trigger, the White House has determined that it will not prosecute Lois Lerner for contempt of Congress for waiving her Fifth Amendment rights to avoid answering questions during the IRS conservative nonprofit targeting hearings, even though it’s clear that she did… [-Ed]
(The Washington Times) The Obama administration informed House Speaker John A. Boehner this week it will not prosecute former IRS executive Lois G. Lerner for contempt of Congress, concluding that she did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights to avoid answering questions when she was called to testify nearly two years ago.
Ms. Lerner, the figure at the center of the IRS’s tea party targeting scandal, is still facing investigation over the intrusive scrutiny of conservative groups, but the decision by U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen does away with at least some of her legal jeopardy.
Still, the move by Mr. Machen — who issued it on Tuesday, his last day in office before returning to private practice — raises major questions over the president’s ability to ignore a congressional directive, and is likely to heighten tensions between President Obama and the GOP-led House.
For her part Ms. Lerner, through her lawyer, sounded a triumphant note.
“We are gratified but not surprised by today’s news,” said William W. Taylor III, who has handled Ms. Lerner’s case. “Anyone who takes a serious and impartial look at this issue would conclude that Ms. Lerner did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights. It is unfortunate that the majority party in the House put politics before a citizen’s constitutional rights.”
The House Oversight Committee had tried to question Ms. Lerner about the tea party targeting soon after it was revealed in May 2013. Ms. Lerner, a long-time federal bureaucrat, attended the hearing, delivered an opening statement professing her innocence, and then declined to answer any of the panel members’ questions, citing her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Republicans on the committee said her opening statement amounted to a waiver of those rights, saying she shouldn’t be allowed to have her say and then refuse to be cross-examined by committee members.
But Mr. Machen decided she hadn’t waived her right, and he declined to prosecute her.
“The Constitution would provide Ms. Lerner with an absolute defense if she were prosecuted for contempt,” Mr. Machen said in a statement released Wednesday, which said he had tapped a team of career prosecutor to review her case and decide whether to pursue it. They concluded that since she would be upheld in her constitutional defense, it made no sense to pursue the matter.
In a letter to Mr. Boehner explaining his decision Mr. Machen said his decision isn’t a rejection of the House’s constitutional powers to call witnesses and to hold them in contempt when they violate the rules. Rather Mr. Machen said the facts of Ms. Lerner’s case undercut the House decision.
“Because, however, the authority of any branch of the United States government to compel witness testimony is limited by the protections of the Constitution, and Ms. Lerner did not waive those protections in this matter, the United States Attorney’s Office will not bring this contempt citation before a grand jury,” Mr. Machen said.
The case raises major questions about the powers of Congress and whether the president and the rest of the executive branch have discretion to follow orders of the House or Senate.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, said Mr. Obama still has an obligation to get to the bottom of the targeting scandal, and said the decision not to prosecute undercut that.
“Once again, the Obama administration has tried to sweep IRS targeting of taxpayers for their political beliefs under the rug,” Mr. Steel said. “The White House still has the opportunity to do the right thing and appoint a special counsel to examine the IRS’ actions.”
Some Republicans had questioned whether Mr. Machen was required to bring contempt proceedings once the House passed its resolution last year.