Darrell Issa seen plowing ahead with IRS probe amid new evidence
By: John Bresnahan and Lauren French
March 7, 2014 02:00 PM EST
Not even a trove of new evidence will stop Darrell Issa from going after Lois Lerner’s testimony.
The House Oversight Committee Chairman is plowing forward with plans to hold the former IRS official in contempt of Congress - possibly as early as next week - despite word from the tax agency that it plans to hand over a broad set of documents spanning Lerner’s entire career at the IRS.
Republicans have long sought the documents and complained the IRS wasn’t sharing the whole picture on Lerner’s 12-year tenure at the agency. The documents will officially go to the Ways and Means Committee but the two panels are sharing evidence.
A senior Republican staffer insists that won’t stop Issa, who caused a stir this week when his rift with Democrats stole the spotlight at a combative hearing. He will still likely seek her testimony, this person said.
“The underlying facts of the case and her refusal to testify have not changed,” said the senior House Republican staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) joined calls to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress after she asserted her Fifth Amendment right during a Wednesday hearing. Issa has suggested that Congress could hold a contempt vote early as next week.
The timing of the contempt vote may be in flux, a Republican leadership aide said, after Issa and the Oversight Committee’s top Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings had a contentious shouting match after the Lerner hearing. The vote is unlikely to be put off permanently but it may be delayed as Issa’s behavior - he pantomimed a throat cut and shut off Cumming’s mic - caused political turbulence.
The timing of the IRS agreeing to turn over the documents - which House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has been seeking for months - caused Democrats to question whether gaining access to a trove of new emails and documents could take some off the pressure off congressional Republicans to move quickly on Lerner’s refusal to testify.
“Maybe more level heads on Ways and Means can finally obtain her testimony instead of holding political contempt votes,” an Oversight Democratic staffer said.
But the GOP aide said that Democrats were mistaken if they thought they could drive a wedge between Camp and Issa by giving the documents to Camp just as the contempt debate heats up.
“We have done a pretty good job at keeping everyone on the same page,” said the aide.
Camp first asked for the communications from the IRS last fall. The Michigan Republican sent a letter to the IRS on Feb. 24 threatening a subpoena if they did not quickly make more of the documents available.
“The IRS has decided to finally make Lois Lerner’s documents and emails available to the Committee. This is a significant step forward and will help us complete our investigation into the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups,” Camp said.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said at the time he planned to respond quickly to Camp’s request.
The threat of a contempt resolution against Lerner came after a nasty hearing this week with Issa and Cummings ending up in a shouting match. Issa cut Cummings’ microphone off and ended the hearing abruptly while Cummings started to speak, which infuriated Democrats.
Issa later apologized to Cummings, although not before House Republicans were forced to defeat a resolution condemning his behavior. The resolution was offered by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Democrats have been highly critical of Issa’s behavior throughout the IRS probe, accusing him and GOP leaders of dragging out the targeting controversy for a long as possible to gain political points before the midterm elections. Republicans in turn argue that Democrats are turning a blind eye on the affair.
The agency admitted it unfairly scrutinized tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax exempt status, but has said it has stopped the practice.
Lerner set off the debate when she acknowledged the targeting in May, followed by a critical inspector general report.
Since then, Democrats have produced documents showing other types of groups may have received similar treatment, though Republicans say they did not face the long waits of the conservative groups.