WASHINGTON — A congressional hearing into the furor over political targeting by the Internal Revenue Service descended into political theater of the absurd Wednesday, as the former IRS official at the heart of the case again asserted her Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer questions.
Lois Lerner, the former director of Tax-Exempt Organizations for the IRS, led the division that oversaw the staffers responsible for making sure that so-called social welfare groups were not going out of bounds with their political activities.
Although her unit did target some progressive groups, the majority of those that faced extra scrutiny were linked to the tea party, sparking cries of scandal and political intimidation from conservatives.
Lerner refused once before to answer questions from House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), but after she invoked her right to not incriminate herself several times on Wednesday, Issa summarily gaveled the hearing to close, sparking an angry outburst from the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
Cummings was incensed that after Issa asked a series of apparently damning questions, Cummings and his fellow Democrats were not allowed to respond, even to ask a procedural question.
“We’re adjourned. Close it down,” Issa said.
“I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this!” Cummings fumed, with his mic turned off. “You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is something absolutely wrong with that. It is absolutely un-American.”
“I gave you an opportunity to ask a question, you had no question,” Issa responded, even as Cummings was insisting he had a question.
Cummings, speaking after Issa had told staffers to shut things down, suggested Issa did not want to hear from the other side.
“Chairman, what are you hiding?,” Cummings said.
That prompted a tart jibe from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “He’s taking the Fifth, Elijah,” Connolly said.