WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) — The man who led the Internal Revenue Service when it was giving extra scrutiny to tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status told Congress on Tuesday that he knew little about what was happening while he was still commissioner.
Douglas Shulman, who vacated his position last November when his five-year term expired, told the Senate Finance Committee he didn’t learn all the facts until he read last week’s report by a Treasury inspector general confirming the targeting strategy.
In his first public remarks since the story broke, Shulman said: “I agree this is an issue that when someone spotted it, they should have brought it up the chain. And they didn’t. I don’t know why.”
Shulman testified at Congress’ second hearing on an episode that has largely consumed Washington since an IRS official acknowledged the targeting and apologized for it in remarks to a legal group on May 10. Shulman and the two officials who testified at Tuesday’s three-and-a-half hour session – the outgoing acting commissioner, Steven Miller, and J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general who issued the report — were all sworn in as witnesses, an unusual step for the Finance panel.
Shulman said he first learned about the targeting and about the inspector general’s investigation in the spring of 2012, during the presidential election. He said that in a meeting with Miller, he was told that IRS workers were using a list to help decide which groups seeking tax-exempt status should get special attention, that the term “tea party” was on that list and that the problem was being addressed. But he said he didn’t know what other words were on that list or the scope and severity of the activity.
Pressed by committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., on how the improper screening system could have occurred in the first place, Shulman said, “Mr. Chairman, I can’t say. I can’t say that I know that answer.”
He said he did not tell Treasury officials about the improper activity.
“I don’t recall talking to anyone about it,” Shulman told the committee. “This is not the kind of information” that, with an inspector general’s probe underway, “should leave the IRS.”
Asked by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, whether he owed conservative groups an apology, Shulman said, “I’m certainly not personally responsible for creating a list that had inappropriate criteria on it.”
That was a reference to a list of words IRS workers looked for in deciding which groups to screen, a list that included the terms including “tea party” and “patriot.”
“I very much regret that it happened and that it happened on my watch,” Shulman said.
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