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IRS’s Lerner Will Invoke Constitutional Right to Silence

Lois Lerner, the mid-level Internal Revenue Service official at the center of a controversy over the agency’s scrutiny of small-government groups, will invoke her constitutional right not to testify before Congress, according to a letter from her lawyer.

“She has not committed any crime or made any misrepresentation but under the circumstances she has no choice but to take this course,” William Taylor of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP in Washington wrote to Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt organizations, first learned that Tea Party groups were getting extra scrutiny in June 2011. The controversy over the IRS actions erupted when she apologized for the practice on May 10 at an industry conference.

Issa has issued a subpoena to Lerner to appear before Congress. He is holding a hearing on the matter that’s scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow in Washington.

“Chairman Issa remains hopeful that she will ultimately decide to testify tomorrow about her knowledge of outrageous IRS targeting of Americans for their political beliefs,” Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for Issa, said in a statement.

In his letter, Taylor asked that Lerner be excused from appearing, which would “have no purpose other than to embarrass or burden her.”

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from making self-incriminating statements.

Issa Letter

In a May 14 letter to Lerner, Issa mentioned several oral and written statements she made to committee staff members, including a Feb. 24, 2012 statement that the criteria for selecting groups for additional scrutiny hadn’t changed.

“It appears that you provided false or misleading information on four separate occasions last year,” wrote Issa and fellow Republican Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio.

The Justice Department has opened a criminal probe into the matter, and it is a crime to make false statements to Congress.

A telephone call to Taylor wasn’t immediately returned.

Acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller and former commissioner Douglas Shulman have testified under oath at previous hearings on the matter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Richard Rubin in Washington at rrubin12@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net

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