IRS Scandal Inspires Bill Against Fifth Amendment

Bill would penalize government employees who refused to answer Congress's questions.

Lois Lerner, who headed the tax exempt organization program, had been previously reported to be on administrative leave.
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When the House Oversight Committee hauled IRS official Lois Lerner in to testify, she made an opening statement. Then she did what many embroiled government employees have done before her, she pleaded the Fifth, as in the Constitutional Amendment that allows people to decline answering questions if they fear self incrimination.

Lerner was in charge of the IRS department that scrutinized groups' tax exempt status applications, the division that was accused of deliberately targeting tea party groups.

"Because I am asserting my right not to testify, some people will assume I have done something wrong. I have not," Lerner said. "One of the basic functions of the Fifth Amendment is to protect innocent individuals and that is the protection I am invoking today."

Now one congressman, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., would like to take that protection away, saying government officials should be fired if they refuse to answer congressional questions.

[READ: Tea Party 'Audit the IRS' Rally About a Lot More Than the Tax Man]

"It is crazy that taxpayers are expected to pay federal employees under these circumstances," Brooks told U.S. News. "The federal government should not be their sugar daddy."

Brooks argues the recent streak in federal government officials pleading the Fifth has hurt the oversight committee's ability to do its job and get to the bottom of administration scandals.


"In this instance, Lois Lerner, is thwarting the oversight committee's responsibilities of the United States Congress and thereby denying the American people the truth about why the federal government was targeting American citizens who exercised their freedom of speech and association rights," Brooks says.

The bill also would fire government employees who lie under oath. Under the proposal, if 75 percent of those on a committee vote that a federal employee gave false testimony during his or hearing, the employee would be fired.

[ALSO: What Was so Lavish About the IRS Employee Conference?]

Last year Jeff Neely of the General Services Administration also pleaded the Fifth to the dismay of many congressmen. Neely had helped organize an outlandish $840,000 GSA conference complete with a $75,000 bike-building competition and costume rentals.

Neely resigned his post following the hearing.

Since her hearing May, Lerner has been placed on administrative leave.

Brooks says he doesn't have any other cosponsors on the bill yet, but says he's confident that when he returns to the hill next week, he will be able to find plenty of colleagues to sign on.

"Woe be to any congressman who does not support this kind of badly needed legislation," Brooks says.

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