Today the IRS official in charge of the exemptions unit where the targeting of conservative groups occurred went before the House Oversight committee, and refused to answer any questions.
The ranking member on the committee Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has called for Lois Lerner’s resignation already, and said during the hearing today that he was “disappointed” that she pled the fifth.
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) referred to the IRS’s behavior to this point as “stonewalling” that “can’t continue,” and suggested a special prosecutor might be necessary. “There will be hell to pay if that’s the route we choose to go down,” he said.
“I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws,” said Lerner in a brief opening statement. “I have not violated any IRS rules and regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other committee.”
She then declined to answer any questions. When pressed by Chairman Darrell Issa, (R-CA) as to whether there were any more specific areas she would be willing to talk about, the former director repeated, “I will not answer any questions.”
The IRS maintains that the targeting that went on was not political, and claims that interpretation is borne out by the Inspector General’s report. The IRS commissioner at the time, Douglas Schulman, said in his opening statement that the questions for tea party groups “created the appearance” of political targeting, which he said was nonetheless “inappropriate and damaging.”
The two Democratic Reps on the oversight committee aren’t the only ones who have questioned the IRS’s handling of the scandal thus far. On Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Baucus asked “Why wasn’t more definitive action taken?” after the IRS found out the targeting was going on. No one was fired at the time, when commissioner Schulman found out about it in May 2012.
One was reassigned, but today Schulman said, “To the best of my knowledge I was not involved in the reassignments.”
Though conservatives are working hard to tie the scandal to the upper levels of the administration, that link need not exist for the targeting to have been politically motivated. The IRS’s behavior takes place within the context of the president’s criticisms of tax exemptions for right-wing groups, with many Democratic legislators going further calling for them to be investigated.
The White House has had to walk back several claims about who knew what, when. Howard Fineman has more on that.
The hearing is still going on, updates to follow.
Update: Reps Markey and Holmes-Norton pile on. Markey focuses on the IRS asking about the content of the prayers of Christian conservative groups, to which Schulman responded that “sounds inappropriate to me.” Holmes-Norton says it would be “far worse if there were outside influence, outside the IRS.” The IG responds that there is no evidence of that yet.
— GOP Oversight (@GOPoversight) May 22, 2013
Rep Jordan: Schulman visited WH 118 times
— Jordan (@j_arthur_bloom) May 22, 2013
Jordan brings up that 132 different members of Congress contacted Shulman about 501(c)4 status in the time period they’re focused on.
— Jedediah Bila (@JedediahBila) May 22, 2013
IRS IG says they’ve had trouble getting an answer on how and why the agency started targeting tea party groups
— Jon Ward (@jonward11) May 22, 2013
Update: Inspector General J. Russell George says, “We have had some difficulty in terms of getting clarity from some of the IRS employees we’ve interviewed.”
— Kaylin Bugos (@KaylinBugos) May 22, 2013