Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller, who only has a few days left on the job, told the House Ways and Means Committee this morning that partisanship was not the motivating factor behind his agency’s targeting of conservative groups.
“I do not believe partisanship motivated” the political and donor questions posed to Tea Party and other applicants, Miller told the panel. “Foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient.”
Under questioning from Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who called the IG’s report “chilling stuff,” Miller said he accepted the inspector general’s findings but “I would not characterize it as targeting.”
“It is absolutely not illegal,” Miller claimed, adding “I don’t believe it should happen.”
J. Russell George, Treasury inspector general for tax administration who issued the scathing report, said some groups had their applications waiting for three years and through two election cycles.
“In summary, we found that all three allegations were substantiated,” George testified. “The IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention. Because of ineffective management by IRS officials 1) inappropriate criteria were developed and stayed in place for a total of more than 18 months, 2) there were substantial delays in processing certain applications, and 3) unnecessary information requests were issued to the organizations.”
Miller said when he found out about the selective enforcement “ultimately I issued a directive that said the law in the area was not that clear, that we had not been enforcing in that area substantially.”
“I said let’s not enforce right now, let’s talk about it and study it… I thought that was the fair thing to do.”
He also admitted that he was aware of the leak of confidential applicant information to Pro Publica.
But Miller defended previous commissioner Doug Shulman, who testified last year that no targeting of Tea Party groups was occurring.
“It was incorrect but whether it was untruthful or not…” Miller said. “To my knowledge I don’t believe he knew at the time.”
The IRS official repeatedly refused to use the word “targeting” as committee members did. “I think it’s a term that defines something that didn’t exist here,” said Miller, stating at another point “I’m going to take exception to ‘targeting’ because I think that’s a loaded term.”
Under pointed questioning, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) asked Miller if he had any contact with the White House on the Tea Party targeting.
“Absolutely not,” Miller responded. “I certainly would have had some conversations with Treasury… on this topic I believe it was very recent.”
Nunes also asked if Miller had any contact with President Obama’s re-election campaign or OFA. “No,” Miller answered.
When asked why he’d agree to resign while claiming the IRS didn’t target groups, the acting commissioner said, “I never said I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I resigned because as the acting commissioner what happens at the IRS, whether I was personally involved or not, stops at my desk.”
He later said “I was asked to resign and I will retire.”
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) called the IRS controversy a bipartisan scandal that “has brought us together.”
“Much as I dislike the right, I think it’s wrong,” he said.
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said it’s key to uncover “how far did this cancer go, how quickly can we cut it out.”
“It’s too late for the Congress but it’s not too late for the government to get its reputation cleaned up for America,” said Rangel, who stepped down as Ways and Means chairman in 2010 because of his ethics scandal.
Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) flashed a list of 35 questions asked one group, noting that one applicant was asked for a list of books read at her book club.
“I don’t know how you can say it’s not political,” Tiberi said.
“We provided horrible customer service here,” Miller said, still protesting any political motivations.
Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) presented some IRS requests received by anti-abortion groups, including “please detail the content of the members of your association’s prayers.”
Miller said he did not know about the specific case, but “it would surprise me that that question was asked.”
Schock also noted another request to “please detail certain signs that may or may not be held up outside a Planned Parenthood facility.”
“That doesn’t sound like the usual question,” Miller said.