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IRS emails shed light on dispute between Lois Lerner, congressional investigators

Emails obtained by Fox News continue to shed light on the ongoing dispute between congressional lawmakers and former IRS official Lois Lerner over her long-sought testimony on the IRS targeting scandal.

The release of the emails follows a bizarre public back-and-forth on Sunday that started when committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told “Fox News Sunday,” that Lerner, a central figure in the targeting scandal, would testify, after pleading the Fifth Amendment last year.

Within minutes, Lerner lawyer William Taylor said he was still under the assumption his client would assert her constitutional right not to testify – a statement followed by committee spokesman Frederick Hill saying he had written proof that Lerner would testify Wednesday.

Hill said Monday the panel does not typically disclose discussions about possible public testimony. But in the case of Lerner, the emails were made available “to set the record straight on offers made by her attorney about her willingness to testify and answer questions without any grant of immunity."

The House committee continues to investigate the IRS in its 2012 targeting of Tea Party groups and other politically conservative organizations trying to get tax-exempt status.

Lerner resigned from her post as the agency’s director of tax-exempt organizations days after her one-and-only appearance before the committee in which she asserted her Fifth Amendment rights.

In the first email obtained by Fox, dated Feb. 27, committee attorney Steve Castor tells Taylor that Issa would be willing to have Lerner testify Monday in a closed deposition and “would consider whether it was still necessary to bring her back on Wednesday,” if she answers the questions thoroughly.

A day later, Taylor tells Castor: “We can probably move forward if the committee agrees that her appearance at a deposition would satisfy any obligation… .” He also tells Castor “for her to take the risk inherent in waiver, she would need assurance she is resolving her issues with the committee.”

On Saturday March 1, Taylor writes to Castor and asks him to give him a call. “We have some change in our thinking,” the brief email reads.

Castor replies to Taylor: “I understand … Ms. Lerner is willing to testify and she is requesting a one week delay. In talking to the chairman, wanted to make sure we had this right.”

Later Saturday afternoon, Taylor replies to Castor, saying only “Yes.”

That was the last email before Issa’s TV appearance from the collection given to Fox.

The GOP-led committee is expecting Lerner to appear on Wednesday.

Issa did not adjourn the May 2013 hearing, only recessed it, which allows him to recall Lerner at any time for the rest of this Congress.

During that hearing, Lerner invoked her amendment right only after giving an opening statement in which she said she broke no laws. 

Issa and Lerner’s attorneys have since argued about whether she is now still protected from having to testify under the Fifth Amendment.

Issa said Sunday that he didn’t know why Lerner’s attorney had changed his mind, but suggested Lerner testifying was “in her best interest,” considering the recent evidence the committee had gathered.

Congressional investigators are trying to determine who exactly gave the orders for IRS agents to target the groups.

Issa said Sunday that Lerner was “in a powerful position and could have been acting alone.” Congressional documents also suggest that she was under political pressure to orchestrate the targeting.

However, safeguards against such situations should have been in place and Congress should work to put in “more checks and balances,” he also said.

Last week, Lerner attorney Taylor made public a letter in which he told the committee that Lerner would testify on Capitol Hill only if compelled by a federal court or if given immunity for the testimony.

He was responding to a letter from Issa saying, in part, that Lerner’s testimony remains “critical to the committee’s investigation.”