Ousted Internal Revenue Service’s interim head Steven Miller appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee Friday to testify on his agency’s targeting of conservative groups.
And although a slightly bored-looking Miller spent most of the four-hour interrogation doing his best U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder impersonation (i.e. playing the “I don’t know” game), some important facts came to light today.
Here are the top four most important takeaways from Friday’s hearing [in no particular order]:
4. Plant Confirmation
The question at the ABA conference came from Washington-based tax lawyer Celia Roady, a lobbyist in the firm of Morgan Lewis.
Roady is certainly well-versed in the issue at hand: She was named to the influential Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities in 2010 by Douglas Shulman, at that time commissioner of the IRS. Lerner is the director for tax-exempt organizations at the IRS.
Roady was serving on the Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities while tea-party groups and other conservative organizations were being targeted by the IRS. Not exactly a question out of the blue — Capitol Hill sources described the question as “planted” and say the IRS has informally admitted as much.
It would appear, according to Miller himself, that Williamson’s suspicions were spot-on and that the question was indeed from a planted audience member:
It’s a good thing Miller answered the way he did (being under oath and all that), because in a statement obtained by Talking Points Memo, Roady said she was most absolutely a plant:
On May 9, I received a call from Lois Lerner, who told me that she wanted to address an issue after her prepared remarks at the ABA Tax Section’s Exempt Organizations Committee Meeting, and asked if I would pose a question to her after her remarks.
I agreed to do so, and she then gave me the question that I asked at the meeting the next day. We had no discussion thereafter on the topic of the question, nor had we spoken about any of this before I received her call. She did not tell me, and I did not know, how she would answer the question.
Obviously, the fact that this was all started with by a rehearsed question from an audience member raises some serious questions.
“The planted question reveals coordination at high levels of the IRS with regard to the disclosure of the sensitive information,” NRO notes.
“Lerner and Miller testified before Congress two days before Lerner addressed the ABA, but said nothing about the IRS’s scrutiny of tea-party groups.”
3. Treasury Knew About the Audit During the 2012 Election
Treasury officials were informed in June 2012 that the Treasury Department’s inspector general was looking into the Internal Revenue Service’s process for screening “politically active” groups applying for tax exemptions.
This means that top Obama officials knew something was up during the 2012 presidential election.
However, some important clarifications need to be made. From the New York Times:
At the first Congressional hearing into the I.R.S. scandal, J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that he informed the Treasury’s general counsel of his audit on June 4, and Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin “shortly thereafter.”
Mr. George told Treasury officials about the allegation as part of a routine briefing about ongoing audits he would be conducting in the coming year, and he did not tell the officials of his conclusions that the targeting had been improper, he said.
Audits are not that uncommon and, as George stressed, he did not reveal the results of the IG’s audit to Treasury officials. He merely informed them that his office was conducting an audit.
Watch for yourself [relevant comments at the 01:27:40 mark]
Still, the “revelation nonetheless raised a fresh set of questions about who was aware of the problem within the Obama administration,” the Wall Street Journal notes.
2. More Investigations Are on the Way
If IRS officials think the IG report is all they have to deal with, they may be grossly mistaken.
“There are additional investigations coming down the pipeline that potentially could uncover [partisan behavior within the IRS], isn’t that correct?” asked Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY).
“That is an accurate statement, sir,” George replied.
Later, while Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) was speaking, George was asked whether his office is performing additional investigations into the IRS’ behavior.
“I’m not in a position, sir, to discuss whether or not –”
“That means you are!” Rep. Griffin interjected.
Watch here [relevant comments at 01:29:17 and 01:43:50]
On a side note, if the IG is conducting additional investigations into the IRS’ partisan behavior and had planned on keeping it quiet, well, that was all undone today.
1. Why Didn’t IRS Officials Say Anything About This Earlier?
Miller, who was appointed interim head on Nov. 9, 2012, knew of the conservative targeting in May of the same year.
However, during a congressional hearing in July 2012, he made no mention of the scandal.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) was unimpressed with the disgraced IRS official’s non-disclosure.
“The law … requires you to not only tell the truth, but to tell the whole truth,” an annoyed Ryan said. “You ‘cannot conceal or cover up, by any trick scheme or device, any material fact.’ How was that not misleading this committee?” Rep. Ryan asked.
“You knew the targeting was taking place. You know the terms ‘Tea Party’ [and] ‘Patriots’ were being used. You just acknowledged a minute ago they were outrageous. And then when you were asked about this after you were briefed about this, that was the answer you gave us? How can we not conclude that you mislead this committee?” he added.
“I did not mislead the committee. I stand by my answer then, I stand by my answer now. Harassment discussion that was part of that question implies political motivation,” Miller responded. “Um, there is a discussion going on. There is no political motivation.”
“I answered the question truthfully,” he answered.
Miller’s “answer” is reminiscent of the excuse offered by Lerner when she was asked last week why the IRS decided now (of all times) to apologize for its behavior: No one ever asked.
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Featured image Getty Images. This post has been updated.