As I pointed out in my “What Did the President Know…” article yesterday, the evidence “strongly suggested” that the question to the IRS chief of the tax-exempt organizations division, Lois Lerner, which led to the revelations about the agency targeting conservatives, was probably a plant.
One of the few nuggets of information gleaned from the “not quite fired” former IRS commissioner Stephen Miller in yesterday’s testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee confirmed that suspicion.
Lois Lerner, an IRS official with oversight of tax-exempt groups, disclosed the scrutiny at an American Bankers Association conference last Friday after a question from a lawyer who has served on IRS advisory boards.
Questioned by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Miller acknowledged that IRS officials were aware that the question would be coming.
“I believe that we talked about that, yes,” Miller said at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing, the first congressional inquiry into the agency’s actions.
Both Lerner and Miller testified before Congress last week, but did not discuss the attention given to Tea Party groups. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) said at Friday’s hearing that he asked Lerner last week about the IRS’s oversight of political groups seeking tax-exempt status.
For his part, Miller has consistently said throughout Friday’s hearing that he did not mislead Congress — under sharp questioning from Republicans who aren’t so sure of that.
“I always answered questions truthfully,” Miller said.
But never volunteered information that you knew full well was political dynamite.
With the inspector general’s audit of her section due out the following Tuesday, Lerner took the limited hang-out route by asking a lawyer, Celia Roady, who sat on a couple of IRS boards, to ask a question about the potential targeting of political groups.
“Lois, a few months ago there were some concerns about the IRS’s review of 501(c)(4) organizations, of applications from tea party organizations,” Celia Roady, a veteran tax lawyer, asked Lois Lerner, head of the IRS’ tax-exempt organizations division, a few minutes after Lerner finished giving prepared remarks. “I was just wondering if you could provide an update.”
Lerner gave her response, referring to notes that were prepared in advance.
While Lerner’s remarks have since been referred to as a “slip” by lawmakers and media reports, several people in the audience on Friday said they saw Lerner refer to notes when answering the question, as if she’d prepared the response in advance. The whole thing was so strange, some even speculated that the question itself had been a plant.
You don’t just innocently plant a question when anyone with half a brain knows that the answer will set off a nuclear bomb in Washington. There was purpose and planning behind the gesture — a strategy that we are supposed to believe was created and developed at the IRS with no help from the White House.
The public relations strategy to release information that would develop into the most significant and dangerous scandal of the Obama presidency would not be left to the flaks at an agency not known for a good public image.
It’s very difficult to believe that the planted question, the roll out of the narrative, and the rest of the PR campaign to limit the damage from this revelation was not carried out by people in the White House. If so, they must have known of the targeting program far longer than anyone has so far admitted.