Lois Lerner shocked the nation when she appeared before Congress yesterday. She opened her remarks with a denial of any wrongdoing and then promptly refused to answer any questions on advice of counsel, relying upon her right under the Fifth Amendment to not be compelled to become a witness against herself.
But it's not that simple. First of all, though the Fifth Amendment applies only to criminal cases, it has been extended by the Supreme Court to include testimony in other proceedings such as testimony before a Congressional Committee.
However, the right is one which may be waived and when Lois Lerner appeared before Congress in other matters and then yesterday gave an opening statement in which she denied wrongdoing and violations of the law, she may have waived her right to be be free from questioning on those matters.
But forget all of that legal wrangling. A good hard hitting lawyer knows how to force her to testify. He goes out and grants immunity to every potential witness who can come in and thrown her under the guillotine and builds such a tough case against her that she has no choice but to spill the beans.
Or, the feds could grant HER immunity and force her to talk, but then, without the corroboration of other witnesses before hand, she could just lie and get by with it.
This isn't over and her decision to "take the fifth" opened up a huge can of worms.
The bottom line is however, if they want to, Congress can force Lerner to testify.