WASHINGTON -- The lawyer for Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the heart of the furor over the agency's investigation of political nonprofit groups, is asking House leaders for a chance to be heard before they vote to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress.
Lerner has asserted her Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate herself in twice refusing to answer questions before Congress, and the House Oversight Committee voted to hold her in contempt, setting up a floor vote that's expected to take place next month.
Pointing out that Congress hasn't tried to hold someone in contempt for pleading the Fifth since the McCarthy era, Lerner's attorney, William Taylor, wrote to lawmakers in a letter released Monday that they should grant him the chance to plead her case.
"Ms. Lerner's privilege not to testify or answer the committee's questions is deeply rooted in our fundamental liberties," Taylor wrote to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
He also noted that no similar contempt votes against someone who asserted their rights have ever been upheld by the courts.
"No court will hold that she waived her privilege," Taylor wrote. "Supreme Court precedent is clear that a witness compelled to appear before a congressional committee does not waive her Fifth Amendment privilege by asserting her innocence. Holding Ms. Lerner in contempt would not only be unfair, and indeed un-American, it would be flatly inconsistent with the Fifth Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court."
"We respectfully request the opportunity to address you and the House before any vote," Taylor concluded.
Cantor, at least, did not seem interested in hearing from Taylor, tweeting:
The House welcomes the opportunity for Lois Lerner to address our members. She can do so at any time before the House Oversight Committee.
— Eric Cantor (@GOPLeader) April 28, 2014
A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel, was similarly dismissive.
“Ms. Lerner can avoid being held in contempt at any time by testifying fully and honestly, but she has chosen not to,” Steel said.
This article was updated after publication to include comment from a spokesman for Speaker Boehner.
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