Republicans Step Up Probe into IRS Targeting Scandal
Instead, the panel heard testimony from representatives of Tea Party groups and their frustration with what they see as harassment by the U.S. government.
“Ms. Bosserman won't come, the FBI won't answer any questions, the president said it's over, the Wall Street Journal reports that it's over,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the subcommittee’s chairman.
On Wednesday, however, new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told a House Ways and Means subcommittee that six of the formal investigations into the handling of tax-exempt groups are ongoing: two in the Senate, two in the House, and two others by the FBI and the inspector general.
At the Wednesday hearing, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) accused the IRS of secretly working on proposed regulations to clarify what the government considers political activity for 501(c)(4) groups.
The Michigan Republican pointed to a 2011 email from an official in the Treasury Department’s tax policy office to a group of IRS officials, including Lois Lerner, a former head of the division that reviewed applications for tax-exempt status. In the email, the Treasury official said regulations were on her “radar” and “we mentioned potentially addressing them (off-plan) in 2013.”
When asked if he knew the meaning of “off plan,” Koskinen said he did not know what it meant in 2012.
“I’m pretty sure that means hidden from the public,” Camp said.
Camp argued that the email indicates that the agency was aware early on that its practice of targeting conservative groups did not comply with existing regulations. He said these government agencies planned the new rules in 2011, while the targeting of conservative groups was in full swing, and not after the scandal broke in order to clarify regulations as the administration has suggested.
“The truth is that our investigation has revealed that the regulations weren't drafted as a remedy to targeting. In fact, they were being worked on…during the time of the targeting as another line of attack against these groups,” Camp said.
Republicans say these new rules, proposed in late November, are intended to silence the speech of interest groups.
While the Obama administration has tried to blame the IRS targeting scandal on low-level workers who were confused about how to process their applications, it seems that they were working under orders from Washington, Camp said.
Camp pointed to another 2010 email from an IRS employee in the Cincinnati field office who flagged an application to his superiors, noting: “Recent media attention to this type of organization indicates to me that this is a high-profile case.”
From then on applications were routed through the offices of Lerner and IRS chief counsel William Wilkins.
Koskinen, who was appearing for the first since taking the helm at the IRS, said he is eager to move beyond the entire business and focus on taxpayer services.
“Nobody wants this investigation to be completed sooner than I do,” Koskinen said.
“I want everyone in the United States who’s a taxpayer to understand and be confident that when they deal with the IRS, we will deal with them in a straightforward way,” he added.