The official at the center of the storm over the U.S. tax collection agency's targeting of conservative Tea Party groups, Lois Lerner, has refused to testify before a tense congressional hearing on Capitol Hill where Democratic and Republican lawmakers expressed their anger and frustration.
Word came Tuesday the Internal Revenue Service official everyone wanted to hear from the most, Lois Lerner, was going to invoke her fifth amendment constitutional right not to incriminate herself and was going to refuse to answer questions from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Lerner, the IRS Director of Exempt Organizations, said her legal counsel had advised her not to answer any questions, but that did not mean she was guilty. She said,
"I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules and regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee."
Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina was outraged that Lerner spoke on her own behalf and then refused to answer the panels' questions.
He said, "She just testified. She just waived her 5th amendment right to privilege. You do not get to tell your side of the story and then not be subjected to cross examination. That is not the way it works."
After a slight hesitation, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a Republican, reluctantly dismissed Lerner, saying she has a right to invoke the 5th amendment.
The Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the committee continued to hammer the other witnesses at the hearing, especially former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, who left the agency in November when his term expired.
Shulman conceded it was inappropriate for IRS officials to use a list of criteria, such as groups that had the word "Patriot" or "Tea Party" in their name, to face extra scrutiny, extra questions, and delays in having their tax-exempt status approved. But he denied that he had done anything wrong in not telling Congress about the practice, which he says he became aware of in the spring of 2012.
Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts was furious. He said, "Sir, you misled Congress. You misled Congress, make no question about it. You told us one thing, [and] when you learned that our suspicions are true, when you learned that there was a list, you did nothing."
Chairman Issa vowed his committee would keep investigating the IRS scandal until they find out who gave the order to target conservative groups. Tea Party activists have held rallies in a number of towns and cities this week to protest the IRS actions.