WASHINGTON -- The controversy surrounding the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status may end up back in the news this week when the House Committee on Oversight and Government Affairs holds another hearing on the matter.
Committee chair Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Sunday that Lois Lerner, who led the IRS unit that reviewed requests for tax exemptions, will appear before lawmakers when they convene this Wednesday.
“Her attorney indicates now that she will testify,” Issa told Fox News Sunday. “Quite frankly, we believe that the evidence we have gathered causes her, in her best interest, to be summoned to testify.”
Getting Lerner to testify would be a major coup for Issa, who has pushed for her to return to the Hill ever since she famously pleaded the Fifth when the IRS targeting controversy first arose. But just hours after Issa broke the news that Lerner would be coming back before the committee, her lawyer denied it.
“As of now, she intends to continue to assert her Fifth Amendment rights,” Lerner’s lawyer told POLITICO. “I do not know why Issa said what he said.”
Issa’s office did not return a request for comment from The Huffington Post.
Lerner retired from the IRS in September. But even before then, Republicans were urging Issa to haul her back before his committee.
This past week, House Republicans announced that they were recalling Lerner to testify. Lerner’s lawyers had said she would simply plead the Fifth again, and asked lawmakers to reconsider a public hearing, citing the numerous death threats the former IRS official had received since the scandal first surfaced. It was also reported that she wanted immunity in exchange for answering questions. But Issa said that she would not be granted any such protections when she appears this Wednesday before his committee.
The IRS targeting controversy has taken several twists since Lerner first declined to testify up through her testimony this coming week. It was revealed that the tax agency had also included progressive groups on its so-called Be On The Look Out lists, though not in the same kind of numbers or frequency as Tea Party groups. The Treasury Department’s inspector general -- who first uncovered the targeting –- said he was dismayed that he hadn’t picked up on the targeting of progressive groups during his investigation.
Republicans, in the meantime, have continued to make the case that there was a larger political motivation behind the targeting and have sought to tie the IRS' watch lists to influence from higher up in the Obama administration. Lerner will likely be pressed hard on this.
The IRS, which is currently being investigated by six different entities over the controversy, is also trying to revamp the rules it uses for weighing how to apply tax exempt status to political organizations. Under the drafted rule, the IRS would limit the amount of "candidate-related political activity" that groups claiming to be social welfare organizations can conduct. The IRS would also define candidate-related political activity to include certain communications such as direct advocacy for a certain candidate, voter registration drives and offering up grants and donations.
Republicans have strongly objected to the proposal, calling it a violation of free speech. Democrats have argued that it would bring some clarity into a tax-exempt application process that -- as demonstrated by the IRS mess -- clearly needs it.
UPDATE: 1 p.m. EST -- Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Issa, sent HuffPost a statement that suggests the hearing will likely now be delayed to accommodate Lerner.
Bill Taylor, Ms. Lerner's attorney, has confirmed in writing that Ms. Lerner is willing to testify and she is now requesting a one week delay for the public hearing. We have informed Mr. Taylor that Ms. Lerner may make her request for a delay on Wednesday when she appears for the hearing.
There still is the lingering question of whether or not Lerner will waive her Fifth Amendment right, should she be hauled up to the Hill. Taylor said in an email to The Huffington Post that "her intent to assert has not changed." He did not respond to request for comment on whether Lerner was hoping to delay the hearing one week.