Ken White at Popehat offers some useful insight to non-lawyers among us about compelled testimony (in the context of the Louis Lerner/IRS saga)
Some people have argued that Lois Lerner should be compelled to testify, either by court order or by grant of immunity. Lerner and her lawyers would love that, as it would make prosecuting her for any suspected wrongdoing incredibly difficult.
Compelled testimony is radioactive. If a witness is compelled to testify, in any subsequent proceeding against them the government has a heavy burden to prove that no part of the prosecution is derived from the compelled testimony, which is treated as immunized. This is called theKastigar doctrine:
"Once a defendant demonstrates that he has testified, under a state grant of immunity, to matters related to the federal prosecution, the federal authorities have the burden of showing that their evidence is not tainted by establishing that they had an independent, legitimate source for the disputed evidence." 378 U.S. at 378 U. S. 79 n. 18. This burden of proof, which we reaffirm as appropriate, is not limited to a negation of taint; rather, it imposes on the prosecution the affirmative duty to prove that the evidence it proposes to use is derived from a legitimate source wholly independent of the compelled testimony.
If I read this right, if the House were to compel her to testify, they might as well grant her immunity and be done with it.
Further on in the post, Ken points out an issue that I have been wondering about myself -- Those who want Lerner to testify are concerned with government arbitrary abuse of power for political purposes. Given that, how can these same folks have any doubt as to why Lerner might plead the Fifth in front of a hostile and partisan House committee
I've been seeing a lot of comments to the effect of "why should Lois Lerner take the Fifth if she has nothing to hide?" Ironically these comments often come from people who profess to oppose expansive government power, and from people who accept the proposition that Lerner was part of wrongdoing in the first place — in other words, that there was a government conspiracy to target people with the machinery of the IRS for holding unpopular political views. Such people do not seem to grasp how their predicate assumptions answer their own question.
You take the Fifth because the government can't be trusted. You take the Fifth because what the truth is, and what the government thinks the truth is, are two very different things. You take the Fifth because even if you didn't do anything wrong your statements can be used as building blocks indishonest, or malicious, or politically motivated prosecutions against you. You take the Fifth because if you answer questions truthfully the government may still decide you are lying and prosecute you for lying.
Pardon me: if you accept the proposition that the government targets organizations for IRS scrutiny because of their political views, and you still say things like "why take the Fifth if you have nothing to hide", then you're either an idiot or a dishonest partisan hack.
If you want to get bent out of shape about something, you are welcome to wonder why Lerner is being investigated, apparently, by the hyper-partisan civil rights division of Justice rather than the public integrity section. That, combined with President Obama's pre-judging of the DOJ's conclusions, is more of a red flag than Lerner's taking the Fifth.
Remember, Martha Stewart did not go to jail for securities fraud of any sort. She went to jail for statements she made during the government investigation.