The House vote that held former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt represents an "unprecedented" retreat to the McCarthy era of the 1950s, said Rep. Elijah Cummings.
The House voted Wednesday to hold Lerner in contempt for refusing to testify in committee hearings investigating the IRS targeting of conservative groups. Lawmakers maintained Lerner waived her rights when she made an opening statement in a 2013 appearance before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
"This is the first time since the 1950s and '60s that a committee has stripped somebody of their Fifth Amendment right, and then at the same time, went on to a contempt citation. And this is unprecedented, except in the McCarthy era," the Maryland Democrat told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Thursday.
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McCarthyism is named for former Wisconsin GOP Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who pursued Communist subversive activities in the 1950s through investigations and hearings. The term refers to the broader issue of making accusations without evidence.
Cummings maintained that while he was interested in what Lerner had to say, a larger issue was at play.
"My argument was not that I don't want to hear what Miss Lerner had to say. I really do want to hear it," he said. "There's something that is more significant than that. And that is upholding the constitutional rights of every single American."
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