When the political theater gets to be too much for House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa, that's a lot of political theater. The Republican congressman wanted to hear the testimony of Lois Lerner, the former IRS official who has long been target No. 1 in the GOP-led investigation into the IRS's extra scrutiny of tax exempt organizations with certain keywords in their names. Lerner once again pleaded the Fifth, prompting Issa to say he could "see no point in going further" with the hearing if Lerner wouldn't play ball. But ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings had a lot to say about the hearing itself.
Cummings framed his statement as a procedural question, but Issa didn't seem to want to hear it. The committee chair motioned for Cummings's mic to be cut (it was), and the Democratic congressman ended up shouting the rest of his take on the IRS investigation. "You cannot just have a one-sided investigation," Cummings said, adding that the congressional queries into the IRS's handling of tax-exempt organizations "ha[s] found no evidence to support allegations of a political conspiracy against conservative groups." Eventually, Issa left the room. "What are you hiding?" Cummings said to Issa as he turned his back. "He's taking the Fifth, Elijah," quipped Rep. Gerry Connolly.
In all, Cummings said in late February, the House Oversight Committee's investigation has cost the government at least $14 million dollars, and taken up 97,542 hours of IRS employee time. In a statement at the time, Cummings accused Republicans of "remain[ing] fixated on falsely accusing the White House of targeting its political enemies," without producing evidence to support those claims.
Issa, for his part, believes that Lerner has waived her Fifth Amendment rights by giving a statement at a previous hearings, something with which Cummings (and Lerner's legal team) disagrees. In a Wednesday statement, Issa argued that "Ms. Lerner is uniquely positioned to provide testimony that will help the committee better understand how and why the IRS targeted conservative groups," and said the committee would consider holding her in contempt if she keeps refusing to talk.