(CNSNews.com) - Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) says Lois Lerner used her position at the IRS to "systematically attack" the free speech rights of conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status.
"The only route to the truth is through the House of Representatives," he said, "because we know this: The investigation at the Justice Department is a complete joke."
Jordan spoke Thursday at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as the panel considered a resolution recommending contempt of Congress charges against Lerner for targeting conservative groups.
"We need Miss Lerner's testimony to complete our oversight work, to bring the truth to the American people," Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in his opening remarks.
He questioned why Lerner would sit down for a "lengthy, no-strings-attached interview with Eric Holder's Justice Department," then plead the fifth amendment after giving the Oversight Committee a voluntary opening statement, where she professed her innocence.
"Think about that for a second," Issa said. "Miss Lerner, who once held a position of great power and responsibility at the IRS, is willing to talk to the Justice Department, executive branch; but she remains unwilling to answer questions from elected representatives of the American people."
Issa noted that Lerner's attorney at one point said she would testify, but the offer was rescinded after Lerner saw some of the evidence gathered by the committee.
"That's not the way these things work," Issa said. "The American taxpayers certainly don't get to plead the fifth and escape all accountability when the IRS audits them."
Issa said he is "concerned that Miss Lerner violated the law." He said he would have considered a request for immunity if Lerner explained why she needed it. "But I'm not going to support immunity so Miss Lerner can continue to mislead this committee. If she really did nothing wrong, and wants to tell the full truth, she doesn't need immunity."
Issa said it would be "irresponsible" of the committee not to "vigorously pursue her testimony."
Ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) -- whose staff had surreptitious communications with Lerner's office -- said he would speak to "generations of Americans yet unborn" who will try to understand why Congress, in 2014, "tried to strip away an American citizen's rights under the 5th amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America."
Cummings said he was not defending Lerner's actions, but rather constitutional protections.
He said he is "a little sensitive about rights, having been the son of two former sharecroppers with only a second-grade education, who did not have certain rights throughout their lives."
In an April 9 letter to Cummings, Republicans on the Oversight Committee accused him of obstructing the committee's investigation of Lerner; and they asked him to explain why his staff "surreptitiously contacted the IRS" about a conservative group that was seeking tax-exempt status.
Cummings never told committee Republicans about his contacts with the IRS concerning the group True the Vote.