House Republicans are considering trying to haul back into the hearing room the embattled IRS official who refused to testify Wednesday, claiming she may have inadvertently waived her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent by delivering an opening statement.
Lois Lerner, the head of the exempt organizations division which oversaw the controversial targeting of conservative groups, caused confusion on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning when she -- according to some lawmakers -- tried to have it both ways. She pleaded the Fifth, saying she would refuse to answer questions from a House committee probing the IRS program. But before she did so, she delivered a defiant opening statement declaring she had done nothing wrong.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, questioned whether she had "effectively waived" her rights, but ultimately dismissed her from the hearing room. But Issa and others are now strongly considering trying to call her back.
"If you could do it the way she wants to do it, then every defendant would come, say 'I didn't rob the bank, and I'm not going to answer the prosecutor's questions,'" Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., told Fox News. "So we'd all in life like to get out our version without having to answer anyone else's questions. It's just not fair. And I don't think it's legal."
Issa made clear by the end of Wednesday's hearing that he was strongly considering calling Lerner back.
"I must consider this, so although I excuse Ms. Lerner, subject to a recall, I am looking into the possibility of recalling her and insisting that she answer questions in light of a waiver," Issa said.
He said for that reason, the hearing would stand in recess, but not be adjourned.
In her opening statement, Lerner asserted her innocence.
"I have not done anything wrong," she said. "I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee."
Lerner is represented by lawyer William W. Taylor, who is noted for winning a dismissal of all charges against former IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a high-profile sexual assault case.
It's unclear whether Lerner can avoid another round of questioning by the committee.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the committee who was as tough as any Republican on the IRS witnesses Wednesday, said he thought Lerner was still in her right to refuse to answer questions.
"I'd like to see (hearings) run like a federal court. Unfortunately, this is not a federal court and she does have a right," Cummings said Wednesday. "And we have to adhere to that."
Former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman, who stayed to testify Wednesday, endured a tough round of questioning for the second day in a row. Lawmakers were visibly frustrated as he struggled to explain why he didn't notify Congress after learning of the practice last year.
But lawmakers are itching to question Lerner, having aired a string of complaints about her own failure to notify Congress.
Lerner touched off the public controversy when, at an American Bar Association conference this month, she apologized for the IRS' practice of targeting conservative organizations for additional scrutiny. It was the first time the agency acknowledged the practice.
She said she hadn't revealed the information sooner, because she was never asked. But just two days before the ABA conference, Lerner was specifically asked about the investigation.
Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., who had asked her about it, later called her answer evasive.
"The bottom line is you cannot lie to Congress, and you cannot be evasive, you cannot try to mislead Congress," he said.