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Lerner

Lois Lerner confers with her attorney during a U.S. House committee hearing in May. (Photo credit: washingtonpost.com; photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg)

A top IRS official, who invoked her fifth amendment rights during a congressional hearing about the U.S. tax agency’s targeting of tea party groups, may be forced to re-appear before Congress.

Next time, Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS’ tax-exempt groups division, risks being held in contempt of Congress should she choose to refuse cross-examination.

On Friday, a U.S. House committee concluded that Lerner waived her right to remain silent when she read a statement saying that she had done “nothing wrong,” and that on the advice of her council she would not answer any of the committee’s questions.  ”One of the basic functions of the Fifth Amendment is to protect Innocent Individuals, and that is the protection I am invoking today,” Lerner said.

Scroll to the bottom of this page to watch her full statement.

Republicans were not pleased with that decision.  ”That is the not the way the Fifth Amendment works. You don’t get to tell your side of the story,” and then avoid cross-examination, said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R—S.C.). “She sat there and could have said nothing.”

On a party-line vote, the Republican-led Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved that Lerner did in fact waive her right to protection from self-incrimination by making a statement but refusing to answer questions.

That means Lerner can now be called back to testify before the committee, where she would likely plead the Fifth again, paving the way for a vote to hold her in contempt of Congress.  Reuters reports that “A contempt of Congress vote could lead to her being prosecuted in a court and subject her to a maximum $1,000 fine and potential 12-month prison sentence.”

The Committee Democrats also wanted to hear from Lerner, but did not agree with Republicans that she had violated any constitutional law by refusing to testify.

“This back and forth political bickering is an embarrassment … This resolution is completely improper and is nothing more than an opportunity to grandstand,” said Democrat Steven Horsford.

Lerner refused to resign after the scandal that led the President to ouster the IRS acting commissioner.  She is now on administrative leave.

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