Today’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the IRS scandal focused on new revelations involving the problematic guidelines for reviewing of tea party cases that came from chief counsel’s office for the Internal Revenue Service, headed by Obama appointee, William Wilkins.
In his opening statement, Chairman Issa made clear that they could now debunk the theory Cincinnati was the source of the IRS targeting.
Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) blasted the White House for continuing to discredit pubic servants in Cincinnati.
He asked Cincinnati IRS agent, Elizabeth Hofacre, “when the spokesman for the president, Jay Carney said, quote, “IRS line personnel improperly targeted conservative groups, what’s the accuracy of that statement?”
She answered, “sir, I know the inference to any rogue agents is not correct.”
When asked how it felt, she said it was like a “nuclear fallout.”
Chaffetz continued, “I’m proud of the fact that we are pursuing this. If we did what the White House wanted us to do, if we did what the ranking member suggested we do, this thing would be over. ‘Nothing here!’ ‘Don’t do it!’ ‘As far as I’m concerned it’s over.’ When you have the spokesman for the president of the United States make a definitive statement that it was two rogue agents, and start poking at these people who have no power to do anything about it, that is wrong. How dare anybody suggest we’re at the end of this? This is the beginning of this. We have to make an example out of it, we need to get to the bottom of it and quite frankly I’m tired of this administration having to keep having these hearings.”
“We’ve done it on Fast and Furious, we’re doing it on Benghazi, we’re doing it on the IRS — why? Each time, there’s a pattern. ‘Nothing here.’ Always ‘just a couple people.’ That’s not true,’” he said.
Trey Gowdy reviewed and dispelled the evolving excuses that have been made in defense of the IRS targeting – the “two rogue agents” in Cincinnati excuse and claims that progressive groups were targeted as well…
“Then the defense morphed into the most novel of all defenses that the IRS is too poorly managed to be capable of concocting a scheme this sophisticated,” he said. “That was the defense, ‘My client’s too dumb to have committed this crime.’”
Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter to Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel, requesting new documents related to IRS employee discussions about the 2010 election, the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, and the tax-exempt status of Tea Party groups.
The request follows testimony from career IRS officials in Washington, D.C. that Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations division Lois Lerner overruled the judgment of a career Washington, D.C. IRS lawyer and ordered Tea Party cases to go through a multi-layer review that included her senior advisor and the IRS Chief Counsel’s office. The IRS Chief Counsel’s office is led by William Wilkins, one of two Obama Administration political appointees at the IRS.
“As a part of this ongoing investigation, the Committees have learned that the IRS Chief Counsel’s office in Washington, D.C. has been closely involved in some of the applications. Its involvement and demands for information about political activity during the 2010 election cycle appears to have caused systematic delays in the processing of Tea Party applications,” wrote Issa, Camp, Jordan, and Boustany in their letter to Werfel. “[B]ased on his decades of experience, [career IRS official Carter Hull] determined he had enough facts to make recommendations whether to approve or deny the applications … However, Mr. Hull’s recommendations were not carried out. Instead, according to Michael Seto, the head of Mr. Hull’s unit in Washington, Lois Lerner instructed that the Tea Party applications go through a multi-layer review that included her senior advisor and the Chief Counsel’s office.”
Key points from testimony of career IRS officials:
- Carter Hull, a tax law specialist and self-described 501(c)(4) expert with 48 years of experience, testified that he sent development letters, and once he received responses, based on his decades of experience, determined he had enough facts to make recommendations whether to approve or deny the applications.
- Mr. Hull’s recommendations were not carried out. Instead, according Michael Seto, the head of Mr. Hull’s unit in Washington D.C., Lois Lerner instructed that the Tea Party applications should go through a multi-layer review that included her senior advisor and the Chief Counsel’s office.
- According to Mr. Hull, sometime in the winter of 2010-2011, the senior advisor to Lois Lerner told him the IRS Chief Counsel’s office would need to review these applications. Mr. Hull also indicated this was the first time in his 48 year career at the IRS he was told to send an application to Ms. Lerner’s senior advisor.
- It was not until August 2011 that the Chief Counsel’s office held a meeting with Mr. Hull, Ms. Lerner’s senior advisor, and other Washington D.C. officials to discuss these test applications. During the intervening months, these applications languished.
- The Chief Counsel’s office instructed Mr. Hull that they needed updated information to evaluate the applications. Since the applications were up-to-date months earlier, when Mr. Hull made his recommendations, Mr. Hull testified that he found this request from the Chief Counsel’s office surprising. The Chief Counsel’s office also discussed the possibility of a template letter to develop all the Tea Party applications, including those being held in Cincinnati. Mr. Hull explained that all the applications were different and that a template was impractical.
- Mr. Hull’s supervisor, Ronald Shoemaker, provided insight on the type of additional information sought by the Chief Counsel’s office—namely, information about the applicants’ political activities leading up to the 2010 election.
- The lengthy review of the test applications in Washington created a bottleneck and caused the delay of other Tea Party applications in Cincinnati. Indeed, multiple IRS employees in Cincinnati – including Elizabeth Hofacre — have told the Committee they were waiting on guidance from Washington on how to move the applications forward.
- Mr. Hull explained that he could not provide advice to Ms. Hofacre because his hands were tied by his superiors in Washington. Therefore, none of these applications were approved or denied during the time he worked with Ms. Hofacre on the cases.
- The head of the Cincinnati office, Cindy Thomas, testified that she continuously asked senior Washington officials when guidance was coming, but it was to no avail.