IRS Witness Pleads Fifth, Leaves Questions Unanswered

Lerner action angers Republicans and Democrats.

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Lois Lerner, head of the IRS unit that decides whether to grant tax-exempt status to groups, listens at the start of a House Oversight Committee hearing.

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The House Oversight Committee proceeded after Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., released Lois Lerner from testimony Wednesday when she invoked her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

"After very careful consideration, I have decided to follow my counsel's advice," Lerner said in a brief opening statement. "I know some people will assume I have done something wrong. I have not."

[BROWSE: Editorial Cartoons on the IRS Scandal]

Lerner, who oversaw the IRS's tax-exempt organizations division, admitted nearly two weeks ago that the IRS had unfairly scrutinized tea party and patriot groups when they sought tax-exempt status. The scandal was revealed after Lerner answered a planted question from the audience at a convention on May 10.

 

Democrats and Republicans both admonished her for refusing to answer the committee's questions and accused her of obstructing the truth.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said Lerner's actions undermined the integrity of the committee's work to find the culprits and restore public trust in the IRS.

[READ: Woman Who Asked Lerner Scandal-Breaking Questions Details Plant]

"If this committee is obstructed...you will leave us no alternative than to appoint special counsel," Lynch said. "There will be hell to pay if that is the route we choose to go down."

Issa tried to convince Lerner to stick around and even promised to narrow the range of questions coming from members on the committee, but Lerner refused.

"If we have to go circuitous routes, we will eventually get there," Issa said as she departed. "The dots will be connected."

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