Issa: Contempt Citation Against Lerner 'Has to Be Considered'

By Susan Jones | March 5, 2014 | 10:22 AM EST

Former IRS official Lois Lerner (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

( - At a short but contentious congressional hearing on Wednesday, former IRS official Lois Lerner repeatedly invoked her 5th Amendment right not to testify about the IRS targeting of tea party groups. This was the second time Lerner has declined to answer questions put to her by the House oversight committee.

Asked if he was considering a contempt citation against Lerner, Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said, "that's certainly something that has to be considered." He said he hoped to get answers from Lerner, and the committee will continue to seek answers in other places.

Issa adjourned the hearing while the ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), was speaking. Issa said Cummings was recognized to ask a question but instead "went into an opening statement," and therefore his microphone was turned off.

"The fact is, Mr. Cummings came to make a point of his objections to the process we've been going through," Issa said outside the hearing room. "He was actually slandering me at the moment that the the mics did go off -- by claiming that this has not been a real investigation.

"This has been a bipartisan investigation by multiple committees in which we had testimony in multiple which it was very clear there was targeting of conservative groups -- in which there were people acting outside the norm," Issa said.

"We're going to continue our investigation. But just because Mr. Cummings would like to have a more convenient truth, doesn't give him the right to make a speech."

Issa said the investigation into Lerner's activities at the IRS is not politically motivated: "Not a shred of it. Not a smidgen of it," he told the reporter who asked the question.

Issa noted that President Obama was initially as outraged by the IRS scandal as Republicans were. "As we began our investigation, we discovered that there was clear, differential treatment of conservative groups, particularly if their name included 'patriot' or 'tea party' -- and for some reason, the administration has gone from supportive of this kind of bad behavior -- when they said it was only in Cincinnati -- to opposing it, and saying there isn't a smidgen of evidence."

Issa said the committee's investigation might have come to a "pretty quick close" if Lerner had been willing to answer questions on Wednesday. "At this point, roads lead to Ms. Lerner, the witness who took the 5th. And she becomes one of the key characters at this point."

Lerner headed the Internal Revenue Service division that handles applications for tax-exempt status. She retired under pressure last year.

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