Gowdy: Lerner 'Did a Lot of Talking for Someone Who Wants to Remain Silent'

By Melanie Arter | April 10, 2014 | 11:43 AM EDT

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) – at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee business meeting on Thursday – said he counted “17 separate factual assertions” Lois Lerner made in her opening statement before invoking the Fifth Amendment when she was subpoenaed to testify last year on the congressional probe of the IRS scandal.

“Mr. Chairman, I counted 17 separate factual assertions by Ms. Lerner – not those three little sentences that my colleagues like to cite – 17 separate factual assertions. That is a lot of talking for somebody who wants to remain silent. That’s a lot of talking,” Gowdy said.

“If you honestly believe that you can make 17 separate factual assertions and still invoke your right to remain silent, then please tell me what waiver is. Please tell me what constitutes waiver if saying 17 separate factual things does not,” Gowdy added.

Thursday’s meeting was convened to consider a resolution to hold Lerner, former IRS director of exempt organizations, in contempt of Congress.

As CNSNews.com reported on May 22, 2013, Lerner pled the Fifth after issuing an opening statement, in which she said: “As director, I'm responsible for about 900 employees nationwide and administering a budget of almost $100 million. My professional career has been devoted to fulfilling responsibilities of the agencies for which I have worked, and I am very proud of the work that I have done in government.

“On May 14, the Treasury Inspector-General released a report finding that the exempt organizations field office in Cincinnati, Ohio used inappropriate criteria to identify for further review applications from orgs that planned to engage in pol activity, which may mean that they did not qualify for tax exemption. On that same day, the dept of justice launched an investigation into the matters described in the inspector-general's report,” Lerner said at the time.

“In addition, members of this committee have accused me of providing false information when I responded to questions about the IRS processing of applications for tax exemption,” Lerner said.

“I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee. And while I would very much like to answer the committee's questions today, I've been advised by my counsel to assert my constitutional right not to testify or answer questions related to the subject matter of this hearing,” Lerner added.

“After very careful consideration, I have decided to follow my counsel's advice and not testify or answer any of the questions today. Because I'm asserting my right not to testify, I know that some people will assume that I've have done something wrong. I have not. One of the basic functions of the Fifth Amend is to protect innocent individuals, and that is the protection I'm invoking today,” she concluded.

“Mr. Chairman, she testified, ‘I have done nothing wrong. I’ve broken no laws. I’ve broken no IRS rules or regulations.’ That’s her testimony. What I’m saying is we should have the right to cross-examine her on that testimony,” Gowdy said.

If given the chance to cross-examine Lerner, Gowdy would ask: “When you said ‘we need a plan,’ who is we? And what plan are you referring to?

“When she said, ‘We need to be careful that it’s not perceived as political,’ who is ‘we’ and what are you concerned about the perception of politics for? What are you fearful of, Ms. Lerner? She said I think we really need to do a project. Again, Ms. Lerner, who is we and what project are you referring to?” Gowdy said.

“That is a legitimate question, and every brother and sister at the bar on the other side of the aisle would ask that question on cross-examination if given the opportunity,” he added.

“‘The Tea Party’s very dangerous.’ Dangerous to whom, Ms. Lerner?” Gowdy asked. “Who thinks they’re dangerous – you? The IRS? Dangerous in what way? ‘We need a vehicle to get back to court.’ Who is we? Why do you want to get back to court? Could it heaven forbid be because you don’t like Citizens United?”

“Mr. Chairman, she said Cincinnati should not have these cases, but then she turned around and said Cincinnati was to blame. That’s an inconsistent statement. Every lawyer on that side of the aisle would ask her to explain that inconsistency – everyone. So why can’t we? If this isn’t waiver, than can someone explain to me on the other side what fact pattern constitutes waiver?” Gowdy added.

“The same Constitution that allows her the right if she wants to, to sit there and say nothing allows these groups the right to petition their government for redress,” he said.