Published June 04, 2013
Conservative groups who claim they were targeted by the Internal Revenue Service are getting their say on Capitol Hill as hearings on the growing agency scandals continue Tuesday.
The hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee will feature leaders of groups allegedly targeted by the IRS, including several Tea Party groups and an anti-gay marriage organization that has claimed its donor details were inappropriately released.
Several of the six groups scheduled to testify say their applications for tax-exempt status were delayed while agents asked intrusive questions that the IRS has since acknowledged were inappropriate.
At a hearing Monday, the watchdog who exposed the IRS' targeting testified nobody in the Ohio office being blamed for the scandal would tell his investigators who directed the program, as the new IRS chief vowed to "get to the bottom" of that growing question.
Nearly a month after the scandal broke, the issue of who directed agents in Cincinnati to single out Tea Party and other groups is perhaps the most glaring unanswered question. Inspector General J. Russell George, at a House appropriations subcommittee hearing, revealed Monday that his audit of the agency tried -- unsuccessfully -- to get to the root of the targeting.
"We did pose that question and no one would acknowledge who, if anyone, provided that direction," he said.
Danny Werfel, testifying for the first time in his new role as acting IRS commissioner, acknowledged: "We have to get to the bottom of it." However, he also said he has not yet asked who ordered the program.
George later testified that the scandal itself is "unprecedented." He cited past attempts by the Nixon administration to use the IRS for inappropriate purposes, but said this program was unprecedented.
The two officials testified as Republican lawmakers voiced skepticism that the program started and ended with a few low-level staffers in Cincinnati. Fueling the skepticism, partial transcripts released over the weekend of an interview with an IRS field agent in that division showed the agent claiming Washington guided the program.
Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said "we will not rest" until they find out who is responsible.
Though George has been repeatedly pressed by Democrats to say that higher-ups were not involved, he stressed Monday that the issue of political appointees' involvement was "not the focus of our audit." George said there's no evidence of White House involvement, but added "I cannot say that" about the possibility of IRS appointee involvement.
The IRS is now under fire for a pair of controversies -- the targeting program, but also a forthcoming inspector general report expected to show the agency spent roughly $50 million on conferences from 2010 to 2012.
Republican leaders of the appropriations subcommittee holding Monday's hearing made clear that the two scandals will result in the agency's budget being put under the microscope.
Rogers said the committee might even consider placing "conditions" on the agency's budget allowing Congress to monitor its spending. He said he's "absolutely appalled" by the conference spending.
Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., head of the subcommittee hosting the hearing, said Congress will "have to think very carefully about the amount of money that we provide to the IRS."
He noted that the agency has requested $12.9 billion for 2014 -- or $1 billion more than it got for 2013.
"We cannot in good conscience continue to provide hard-earned taxpayers' dollars and have them use those funds to abuse the rights of American citizens," he said.
Werfel acknowledged that the public trust "has been violated," and said he is committed to restoring it.
Democratic Rep. Jose Serrano, though, cautioned against cutting funding to the IRS. The New York lawmaker said doing so is "asking for more trouble," though he blasted the IRS program as inappropriate.
Meanwhile, the White House on Monday stood by claims that administration officials were not involved in the IRS' targeting of Tea Party groups.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday the administration is "concerned" about both the conference spending and the targeting program. But he defended the administration following claims by an unnamed IRS employee that the targeting program was directed by Washington.
The inspector general, Carney said, "both in testimony and in his report, found no evidence that outsiders -- those outside the IRS -- influenced the behavior that took place there."
He said: "That is the conclusion of the independent inspector general. And we certainly have seen no other evidence to contradict that."
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., on Sunday called Carney a "paid liar" as he discussed the IRS situation. Carney, though, said Monday he's "not going to get into a back-and-forth with" Issa.
The Associated Press contributed to this report