Congressman Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama, is proposing new legislation that would require “any federal employee” to be fired if he or she refuses to answer questions during a congressional hearing.
Rep. Brooks says this bill is in direct reponse to Lois Lerner, the IRS employee in charge of tax exempt organizations, who pleaded the Fifth during her appearance before the House Oversight Committee last month. In a statement to msnbc, the congressman said of Lerner, “This is a statement which should not be made by federally appointed officials before a congressional hearing if they are faithfully carrying out the duties of their office.” He continues, “That is why I am introducing H.R. 2458, which would terminate the employment of any federal employee who refuses to answer questions before a Congressional hearing or lies before a Congressional hearing. This legislation is constitutional and necessary to enable Congress to provide proper oversight for the American people.”
Rep. Brooks’s proposed bill is divided into three sections. The first would terminate “any federal employee who refuses to answer questions in a congressional hearing after being granted immunity.”
Section two would terminate employees in some cases who have not been granted immunity. That section reads, in whole:
SEC. 2. CAUSE FOR TERMINATION WITHOUT WAIVER OF IMMUNITY.
Any Federal employee who, in a congressional hearing, refuses to answer questions specifically, directly, and narrowly relating to the official duties of such employee, without being required to waive immunity with respect to the use of answers or the fruits thereof in a criminal prosecution of such employee, shall be terminated from employment.
The third section also allows for any federal employee to be fired if that employee “willfully or knowingly gave false testimony in a congressional hearing.” But under Rep. Brooks’s proposed bill, testimony is not false only if proven false. A hypothetical federal employee can be fired just because three-fourths of the members of Congress who heard the testimony “find” it to be false. In other words, it’s a verdict of popular opinion.
There are two things to note about Rep. Brooks’s proposed law. First, if passed (which seems exceedingly unlikely) the bill could potentially apply to the Congressman himself at some point in the future since, as a duly elected member of the United States House of Representatives, he would fall under the category of “any federal employee.”
Secondly, every member of Congress takes an Oath of Office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and Rep. Brooks calls his proposed bill “constitutional and necessary.” And while it’s true that, under this bill, no government worker could be jailed for pleading the Fifth, he or she would instead lose their livelihood. The Fifth Amendment states, “No person… shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” It seems the fear of losing a job could be rather compelling.
Here is a full copy of Rep. Brooks’s proposed bill: