While the US government is trying to find National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, another effort is being made to enforce compliance with congressional questioning.
Late last week, Alabama US Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican, introduced HR 2458. If passed, it would terminate the employment of any employee of the government who takes the Fifth Amendment during the process of questioning.
This legislation comes in the aftermath of the testimony of Lois Lerner, the Director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS, who invoked her Fifth Amendment rights. In May, Lerner testified before the House Government Oversight Committee over her agency’s alleged targeting of conservative and tea party groups seeking tax exemption status. Lerner simply said:
“While I would very much like to answer the committee’s questions today, I have been advised by my counsel to assert my constitutional right not to testify or answer questions related to the subject matter of this hearing.”
Lerner has been on administrative leave since her testimony.
Brooks’ bill, written rather plainly, says:
“Any Federal employee who refuses to answer questions in a congressional hearing after being granted immunity shall be terminated from employment.”
Section 2 continues:
“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.”
“This legislation is constitutional and necessary to enable Congress to provide proper oversight for the American people,” Brooks told the Hill.
This is also not the first instance of a member of Congress asserting that a government employee waives this right. Shortly after Lerner’s appearance before the committee, a spokesman for California US Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican questioning her, said:
“After consulting with counsel, Chairman Issa has concluded that Ms. Lerner’s Fifth Amendment assertion is no longer valid. She remains under subpoena.”
“How far are you willing to take this principle? If it’s acceptable for the Federal Government to terminate someone because they exercise their Constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment, would it also be acceptable to fire a Federal Employee for exercising their rights under the First Amendment? How about the Second? Where does it stop?”
The US is currently undergoing a debate about the parameters of surveillance and the leaking of that information. Now, US Rep. Mo Brooks is attempting to pass legislation that would aim to compel employees of the federal government to testify in an attempt to ensure congressional oversight.
The bill currently has no cosponsors.