Ousted Internal Revenue Service interim head Steven Miller took full responsibility Tuesday for the planted question that kicked off the IRS’s conservative targeting scandal, adding that the question was “an incredibly bad idea.”
“I will take responsibility for that,” Miller said in response to a question from Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. “The thought was to – now that we had the TIGTA [Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration] report, you had all the facts. We had our response.”
“We thought we’d get out an apology,” he added. “The way we did it — we wanted to reach out to Hill staff about the same time … — did not work out. Obviously, the entire thing was an incredibly bad idea.”
Miller is referring to Washington-based tax lawyer Celia Roady asking senior IRS official Lois Lerner at the American Bar Association conference two weeks ago a prepared question involving the agency’s targeting of conservative groups.
Lerner’s answer, and subsequent “apology” to conservative groups, was the first shoe dropped in what has now become a major scandal.
And make no mistake about it, Roady was most definitely a plant. She admitted to it last week [via Talking Points Memo]:
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.
“The planted question reveals coordination at high levels of the IRS with regard to the disclosure of the sensitive information,” National Review Online 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.”
But issues of information coordination aside, let’s go back to Miller taking responsibility for the planted question. Let’s go back and look at what he said last week during his four-hour interrogation by the House Ways and Means Committee.
First, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) had an interesting exchange with Miller regarding this exact topic.
“Did you know that Ms. Lerner was going to appear last Friday, May 10th, on a panel called ‘News From the IRS and Treasury’ at the American Bar Association conference?” the California congressman asked.
“I knew she was appearing; I did not know the topic,” he replied.
“Did you or any of your subordinates direct Lois Lerner to make the public statement at the panel discussion acknowledging the targeting of tax-exempt groups?”
“It was a prepared Q-and-A.”
“Do you know Ms. Celia Roady, a member of IRS’s Advisory Council on Tax-Exempt and Government Entities?”
“Was Ms. Roady’s question to Ms. Lerner about targeting conservative groups planned in advance?”
“I believe that we talked about that, yes.”
But that’s not all. There were many more questions where that came from:
“Who told her to ask the question?” Republican Congressman Kenny Marchant asked.
“I don’t know, actually, I’m not sure, might have been Lois Lerner,” Miller answered.
Lastly, there was this exchange between Miller and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) [via the Wall Street Journal]:
REP. ROSKAM: You admit that you spoke with Ms. Lerner and Celia Roady about the planted question beforehand. Can you tell us more about that conversation?
MR. MILLER: I did not speak to Celia Roady, and I believe I did talk to Lois about the possibility of, now that the TIGTA report was finalized, now that we knew all the facts, now that we had responded in writing and everything was done, did it make sense for us to start talking about this in public.
REP. ROSKAM: Can you walk me through the logic that animated in your mind at that time, where you thought it would be a good idea to make a public disclosure to the American Bar Association rather than coming and following up on your duty to disclose that to the House?
MR. MILLER: So we were going to do it at the same time, I believe; that our intent was to talk to you all at the same time.
REP. ROSKAM: But that didn’t happen, did it?
MR. MILLER: It did not happen, I don’t believe.
Later, he turns his questions to why lawmakers weren’t updated, and if the IRS made any effort to update lawmakers before the disclosure at the ABA conference.
REP. ROSKAM: Now, you’re a lawyer and I’m a lawyer. You know that in the process of discovery, Mr. Miller, that when you find subsequent information, counsel has a duty to disclose that to the opposite party. There’s no Perry Mason moments. There’s no gotcha moments. There’s no litigious situation where somebody comes in and says, oh, we are just showing up, Your Honor, with this information and we haven’t disclosed it to the other side.
Don’t you acknowledge that you had a duty, based on your testimony before this committee, of what your actual knowledge was — didn’t you have a duty, Mr. Miller, to come forward and disclose that to the committee, based on all the cascading inquiries that had happened from the Ways and Means Committee directed to you?
MR. MILLER: So I don’t believe so, sir. What was happening was I was in possession of some facts, was not in possession of all facts. ….
REP. ROSKAM: So you weren’t concerned about the timing of the TIGTA investigation when you and Ms. Lerner made the decision to move forward and do the planted question. Is that right?
MR. MILLER: It was done.
REP. ROSKAM: It was done. And so you had the –
MR. MILLER: We had all the facts, and we had made our written response –
REP. ROSKAM: Right. I understand that. So in other words, you had the actual information. The totality of the information that you’re describing today — you had it all in your possession at the time at which you were under a scheme with Ms. Lerner to go and do a planted question. Is that right?
MR. MILLER: I sort of object to the term “scheme.” We had the information. We were reaching out to the committee at the same time.
[…]REP. ROSKAM: What form did that outreach take?
MR. MILLER: We called to try to get on the calendar.
REP. ROSKAM: You called to try and get on the calendar. Is that all you got?
MR. MILLER: It’s the truth.
You can watch their exchange here:
Now although an argument can be made that Steven Miller didn’t technically state falsehoods during his testimony last week, today’s admission that the planted question was a “terrible idea” that didn’t live up to expectation seems to show that the former interim chief knew much more about the Lerner/Roady plan then he let on last week.
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
Featured image Getty Images.