WASHINGTON POST by ED OKEEFE and JOSH HICKS
The first high-profile hearing on the IRS scandal is being held today before the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the IRS. Lawmakers in both chambers are seeking answers about why they weren’t told that the IRS had singled out conservative groups for scrutiny despite multiple inquiries in recent years.The hearing is the first of several sessions in coming weeks in which lawmakers will grill current and former officials about the IRS’s screening practices.
9:43 amJosh Hicks
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) asked Miller what corrective actions the IRS had taken to ensure improper targeting of tax-exempt applicants does not happen again.
Miller responded that the agency provided verbal counseling for “the person we thought, at the time, to be responsible for the listing.” Earlier, he told committee chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) that he did not know who was responsible for establishing the inappropriate search criteria.
Addressing discrepancies in his statements and a look of disbelief from Camp, Miller explained that IRS officials eventually determined that the person in question might not be the one responsible for the targeting, and that the agency eventually held a meeting with all managers in the determinations division to walk them through the appropriate processes for reviewing tax-exemption applications.
9:42 am Ed O’Keefe
After almost two hours, the House Ways and Means Committee will recess briefly while members go vote on legislation under consideration by the full House.
Members have occupied their seats along the dais for most of the morning, suggesting that virtually everyone intends to spend at least a few moments probing Steven Miller and J. Russell George.
Our updates will resume when the panel returns.
9:24 amJosh Hicks
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said there’s a difference between “stupid mistakes” and “malicious mistakes.” He said IRS examiners took a shortcut that “they deeply regret” by singling out groups for their policy positions instead of their activities.
McDermott noted that the Inspector General’s report found no political motivation behind the establishment of search criteria that targeted “tea party” and other conservative groups. He asked the IG, J. Russell George, to confirm.
9:19 amEd O’Keefe
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) pushed Steven Miller to explain why he resigned as acting head of the IRS if, as he’s said repeatedly during the hearing, he didn’t know details of the scandal enveloping his former employer, or didn’t do anything wrong.
“I never said I didn’t do anything wrong, Mr. Nunes,” Miller replied.
“I resigned, because … what happens at the IRS, whether it was involved or not, stops at my desk. I should be held accountable,” he said.
8:56 amEd O’Keefe
Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) attempted to get former IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller to admit that his former boss, former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, knowingly lied to Congress.
Boustany played video of Shulman telling lawmakers that the IRS hadn’t targeted conservative-leaning groups.
Under questioning, Miller said that Shulman’s statement was “incorrect, but not untruthful.”
“When you talk about targeting, it’s a pejorative term,” Miller told the committee. He noted that during the time in question, the Supreme Court had just considered the Citizens United case that granted more freedoms to political groups and that there was general concern that some groups might be seeking social welfare tax-exempt status despite conducting political activities.
But Boustany seized on what Miller said about Shulman being “incorrect, but not untruthful.”
“To my knowledge, I don’t believe he knew at the time,” about targeting, Miller said of Shulman.
Shulman was appointed to lead the IRS in March 2008 by George W. Bush and stepped down in November.
8:54 amJosh Hicks
Miller said the reviews of tax-exemption applicants were mainly handled by staff at the “determinations” unit in Cincinnati, but also by “a hundred or so people who report into Cincinnati” as well.
A previous Washington Post article showed that the reviews extended beyond Cincinnati, to offices in D.C. and California. Miller’s comment confirms what Juliet Eilperin reported.
8:41 amEd O’Keefe
President Obama moved Thursday to install new leadership atop the Internal Revenue Service, tapping Danny Werfel to lead the scandal-plagued agency.
So who is Werfel? Where did he work before? Make sure to read our profile of him published in Friday’s Washington Post:
Werfel, 42, rose through the ranks at the Office of Management and Budget and the Justice Department as a budget analyst and lawyer before Obama tapped him to serve as OMB controller in 2009. As controller he was responsible for the government’s financial management, contracting, information technology and personnel policy.
Now he has the unenviable task of overhauling the IRS, which is reeling after admitting that employees aggressively targeted certain groups applying for tax-exempt status. Werfel will serve as acting director through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, the White House said.
Werfel may be well liked by colleagues at the OMB and the White House, but some lawmakers seemed skeptical or said they didn’t know much about him.
Read our full profile here.
8:31 amJosh Hicks
The Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George tells the committee the IRS asked for donor information from the groups it targeted for extra scrutiny.
He said the IRS reported to his office that it had destroyed the donor information after realizing it wasn’t supposed to collect such information from tax-exemption applicants.
8:26 amEd O’Keefe
Former IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller apologized to lawmakers Friday for the scandal that led to his ouster.
“First and foremost, as acting commissioner, I want to apologize on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service,” he told the panel.
“The affected organizations and the American public deserve better,” Miller said later, adding that “Partisanship has no place at the IRS.”
“I do not believe that partisanship motivated the people that engaged in the practices described in the inspector general’s report,” he said.
So then why did they do it?
“Foolish mistakes were made by people who were trying to be more efficient in their work,” he concluded.
8:22 amEd O’Keefe
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Top IRS officials in Washington first learned of the tax-exempt office’s targeting of conservative-leaning groups in June 2011, while others didn’t learn about it until April or May of last year, according to a federal watchdog.
Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George verbally laid out for the committee his office’s findings, saying that IRS officials used “inappropriate criteria” to probe these groups.
“The criteria included the words ‘tea party,’ ‘Patriot,” or ’9/12 Project,’” George said. “Another listed criterion was that the group’s issues included government spending, government debt or taxes. Yet another listed criterion appeared as education of the public by advocacy or lobbying to, quote, ‘Make America a better place to live.’ Finally, the criterion consisted of any statements in the case file criticizing how the country is being run,” George said.
“The reason that these criteria were inappropriate is that they did not focus on tax-exempt laws and Treasury Regulations,” he added. “For example, 501(C)(3) organizations may not engage in political campaign intervention. 501(C)(4) organizations can, but it must not be their primary activity. Political campaign intervention is action taken on behalf of, or against, a particular candidate running for office.”
“According to our findings, the first time that executives from Washington, D.C. became aware of the use of these criteria was June 2011, with some executives not becoming aware of the criteria until April or May 2012,” he said later.
Read George’s full oral statement below, as provided by TIGTA: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/05/17/hearing-on-irs-scandal-live-updates/#liveblog-entry-41777
IG On IRS Scandal: ‘Clear Evidence’ of Wrongdoing (cnsnews.com)
Live: House Hearing on IRS Targeting (drudge.com)
Congress grills top IRS official (wnd.com)
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