Lois Lerner, the Internal Revenue Service official in charge of approving applications for tax-exempt status, denied wrongdoing in response to accusations that the IRS targeted conservative organizations seeking nonprofit status for heavier scrutiny between 2010 and 2012.
"I have not done anything wrong," Lerner told the House Oversight Committee during a hearing about the IRS' practices Wednesday. "I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee."
Lerner's opening statement before the committee was the only information she would provide at the hearing. As advised by her attorney, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself by testifying and declined to respond to questions from lawmakers. She added that by refusing to subject herself to questions "some people will assume I have done something wrong. I have not."
After Lerner delivered the opening statement, committee Chairman Darell Issa, a Republican of California, asked her to leave the committee room.
Before she could exit, however, South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Republican on the committee, protested Issa's dismissal of the witness.
"She just testified; she just waived her Fifth Amendment right to privilege. You don't get to tell your side of the story and then not be subjected to cross-examination," Gowdy said. "That's not the way it works. ... She ought to stand here and answer our questions."
Issa implored her to reconsider her decision and asked if she would be willing to discuss testimony she had provided to the committee at earlier hearings.
"I will not answer any questions or testify today," Lerner responded.
"I decline to answer that question for the reasons I've already given," Lerner added, and Issa dismissed her from the room.
Despite her unwillingness to speak before the bipartisan House panel, Lerner previously answered questions from the Treasury inspector general, and a transcription of her responses, in which she denied that the IRS practices were influenced by outside agencies, was provided to the committee.
With Lerner's absence, the committee moved on to question four other witnesses: the IRS' outgoing Acting Commissioner Steven Miller; former Commissioner Douglas Shulman; Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George; and Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal S. Wolin.