House panel probes IRS targeting of conservative groups
The firestorm buffeting the Internal Revenue Service intensified yesterday as lawmakers began what they promised would be an extensive effort to learn whether there was any political motivation or White House involvement in the agency’s recently acknowledged misdeeds.
Fueling those concerns, Russell George, the Treasury Department’s top tax watchdog, said yesterday he had informed top Treasury officials last summer about problems related to the special attention the agency was paying some conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status. George said he shared the information with the Treasury’s general counsel in June and with Deputy Treasury
Secretary Neal Wolin “shortly thereafter.”
Such a timeline could be significant, as Republicans have been trying to establish how early the Obama administration learned about the agency’s conduct, which officials were informed and whether the coming presidential election affected their response.
The agency officials on the front lines of the controversy deny any political motives and say the problems were mostly the result of sloppy work.
At a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday, Steven Miller, the former acting commissioner of the IRS, apologized for what he described as “horrible customer service” following revelations that IRS employees singled out
conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status for special scrutiny.
Miller, who resigned Wednesday, acknowledged “foolish mistakes” and described some of what occurred as “obnoxious,” but insisted that none of it was politically driven.
“We provided horrible customer service here. I will admit that,” Miller said. “Whether it was politically motivated or not is a very different question.”
Republicans were unconvinced and envision a more nefarious set of circumstances.
“The reality is, this is not a personnel problem,” said Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican and the committee’s chairman. “This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too powerful, too intrusive and too abusive of honest, hardworking taxpayers.”
Camp said he believed the problem reaches beyond the tax-collection agency.
“This appears to be just
the latest example of a culture of cover-ups and political intimidation in this administration,” he said. “It seems like the truth is hidden from the American people just long enough to make it through an election.”