Testifying on Capitol Hill today, the Treasury Department’s Inspector General said he informed high-level Obama Treasury Department officials in early June 2012 in the middle of the presidential election campaign that he was investigating the IRS for engaging in unlawful scrutiny of Tea Party and other conservative political groups. A previous report indicated that senior IRS officials knew of this unlawful practice in 2011.
The federal watchdog released his report this week that concluded that ineffective IRS management allowed agents to use inappropriate criteria to profile conservative groups. “At the first Congressional hearing into the I.R.S. scandal, J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that he informed the Treasury’s general counsel of his audit on June 4, and Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin ‘shortly thereafter.’ “
At the same House hearing today, Acting IRS Commission Steven Miller was grilled by Members of Congress and admitted that his agency did “horrible customer service” in the way it handled applications for perhaps as many as 500 Tea Party and other groups seeking nonprofit status as so-called social welfare 501(c)(4) organizations. In less-than-forthcoming testimony, Miller nonetheless insisted that there was no partisan motivation or corruption involved in the way the applications were processed.
No liberal or left-of-center political groups were subject to any equivalent extra scrutiny, intrusive questioning, or a slow down in processing, however.
Miller resigned on Wednesday, although he claimed that he was leaving the post in June anyway.
At today’s hearing, Miller also revealed that the apology for the Tea Party targeting from IRS official Lois Lerner given at a lawyer’s conference that started the uproar last Friday was in response to a planted question. The attempt at spin control presumably was prompted by the impending release of the IG report.
Separately, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew claimed today that he learned that the IRS was under investigation by the Inspector General in March shortly after he was sworn in, but didn’t learn any of the details of the IRS misconduct until last Friday. He and the new acting Commissioner have vowed to clean up the agency.
Some observers have raised the implication of voter suppression in the IRS scandal: “In the end, the IRS managed to put its thumb on the political scale by squelching political activity on the right — some groups report curtailing get-out-the-vote efforts, spending piles of money on legal fees or disbanding altogether in the face of IRS inquisitions. And all of it happened during a close and hotly contested presidential election where such mischievousness could make a real difference.”
There are seemingly new developments by the minute in this IRS Tea Party targeting scandal. Further Congressional hearings, in which other IRS officials will called to give testimony, are scheduled in the coming days. The FBI is also conducting a criminal investigation into the IRS. Democrat Sen. Max Baucus, who recently referred to Obamacare as a “huge train wreck” said “I have a hunch that a lot more is going to come out, frankly” and “It’s broader than the current focus.”
[top image via Shutterstock]
Here are some highlights (or lowlights depending upon your perspective) of today’s hearing with Acting IRS Commissioner Miller as well as a specific sequence with small-business champion Rep. Mike Kelly which uncharacteristically resulted in applause from those in the hearing room: