Once in a while, when Democrats refer to Republican tactics as “McCarthyite,” they’re being literal.
As part of the ongoing effort to make the discredited IRS “scandal” interesting, the House Oversight Committee voted to today to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress. Every Republican on the panel voted for it; every committee Democrat voted against it.
But in a situation like this, the details matter. Lerner was called to testify 11 months; she said she had done nothing wrong; but she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in response to lawmakers’ questions. Lerner was called back to the committee two months ago and she again took the Fifth.
Republicans are now targeting the former IRS official, saying she should be prosecuted for pleading the Fifth. The last time this came up? The era of Joe McCarthy and his notorious witch hunts.
According the records retrieved by the Congressional Research Service, no American has been successfully prosecuted for invoking their Fifth Amendment rights before Congress.Congress brought contempt cases 11 times from 1951 to 1968, according the CRS…. Most of the cases involved the House Un-American Activities Committee and its communist witch-hunts in the 1950s.
The full CRS report is online here (pdf).
One case is of particular interest – and makes Issa’s over-the-top tactics look a little worse.
McCarthy accused a factory worker named Diantha Hoag of being a communist, and when she spoke to the Un-American Activities Committee, the accused answered a variety of questions before pleading the Fifth in response to inquiries about her associations.
Like Issa now, McCarthy said Hoag couldn’t do that. A federal court said McCarthy didn’t know what he was talking about.
Issa may or may not know this, but all appearances, he doesn’t seem to care. This is about putting on a nice little show for the Republican base and others who continue to hope against hope that the IRS “controversy” may someday become real if GOP lawmakers just keep digging indefinitely.
Also note that before the Oversight Committee’s contempt vote, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) asked that the panel release the full transcripts of all the interviews with all the witnesses from the IRS and Treasury. That way, rather than pass around cherry-picked excerpts removed from context, everyone – voters, journalists, lawmakers, etc. – could see the whole story for themselves.
Issa, who still thinks the Obama administration is hiding something, refused the request for full disclosure.