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New IRS chief to face House as agency's woes grow

 

The new acting commissioner of the IRS is scheduled to make his first congressional appearance Monday as the embattled agency faces new questions -- over claims that its targeting of conservative groups was directed by Washington and a report that the agency spent millions on conferences. 

Danny Werfel will appear before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee after the Treasury Department’s inspector general released the preliminary report on conference spending this weekend. The report states the IRS spent about $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees from 2010 to 2012, according to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Additionally, interviews with an IRS field agent involved in the division that targeted Tea Party groups for additional vetting appear to contradict the White House’s assertion that rogue agents -- not the administration -- were behind the effort, according to partial transcripts released Sunday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The agent in the Cincinnati office, in which the targeting took place, told congressional investigators that he or she was told by a supervisor in March 2010 to search for Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status and that “Washington, D.C., wanted some cases.”

The agent said that by April the office had held up roughly 40 cases and at least seven were sent to Washington. The agent also said a second IRS employee asked for information on two other specific applicants in which Washington was interested.

When asked by congressional investigators about allegations and press reports about two agents in Cincinnati essentially being responsible for the targeting, the agent responded:

“It's impossible. As an agent we are controlled by many, many people. We have to submit many, many reports. So the chance of two agents being rogue and doing things like that could never happen. … They were basically throwing us underneath the bus.”

The administration has denied involvement in the scandal, repeatedly saying it was limited to the Cincinnati office.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has appeared to give conflicting statements on the scandal, including whether top White House officials knew only of the inspector general’s probe into the targeting, or if they were told about the bombshell findings when briefed in late April.

Carney said top officials decided not to tell President Obama to avoid any possibility of the White House interfering in the investigation.

On Sunday, California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Affair Committee, accused Carney of being untruthful about the scandal.

“Their paid liar, their spokesperson … he’s still making up things about what happened and calling this a local rogue,” Issa said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The congressman also provided the network with a copy of the transcript in which the agent said he or she followed directions from Washington. However, when asked if the Tea Party scrutiny came directly from Washington, the agent said “I believe so.”

Officials have also said the targeting was not politically motivated, though it appeared to last until nearly the end of the 2012 election cycle and did not appear to target liberal-leaning political groups.

At least three congressional committees are already investigating the scandal, which widened last week to include revelations about the agency spending roughly $60,000 on team-building videos that spoofed the TV shows “Star Trek” and “Gilligan’s Island.”

Steve Miller, the acting IRS director when the scandal broke, resigned May 15 after Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew asked for his resignation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report