Though the scandal surrounding the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups has fallen from breaking news headlines in recent weeks, more information is continuing to trickle out on the matter.
On Wednesday, four House Republicans released excerpts from congressional testimony with a number of involved IRS employees indicating the scandal may be closer to the White House than previously known, though there is still no evidence to indicate President Obama was personally involved.
However, it seems an Obama appointee may have been.
The chief counsel’s office for the Internal Revenue Service, headed by a political appointee of President Obama, helped develop the agency’s problematic guidelines for reviewing “tea party” cases, according to a top IRS attorney.
In interviews with congressional investigators, IRS lawyer Carter Hull said his superiors told him that the chief counsel’s office, led by William Wilkins, would need to review some of the first applications the agency screened for additional scrutiny because of potential political activity.
Previous accounts from IRS employees had shown that Washington IRS officials were involved in the controversy, but Hull’s comments represent the closest connection to the White House to date. [Emphasis added]
The head of Hull’s unit, Michael Seto, also spoke with investigators, adding that the former head of the Internal Revenue Service’s division on tax-exempt organizations Lois Lerner instructed that certain tea party applications undergo special scrutiny that included a “multi-layer review” that involved her own staff as well as the chief counsel’s office.
Hull, who worked in the approval process, described how he was “taken aback” when, after the IRS had held the applications for prolonged periods of time, they instructed him to solicit more “current” information from the groups.
Another individual who testified, Mr. Hull’s supervisor Ronald Shoemaker, said the chief counsel’s office wanted more information about the groups’ activities “right before the election period.”
Conservative organizations like Tea Party and 9/12 groups have faced appalling mistreatment at the hands of the IRS for several years. Many were asked to provide countless pages of information, some of which was personal or difficult to obtain, all while waiting inordinate periods of time for approval.
The IRS was quick to defend Wilkins back in May after it was revealed that the targeting was discussed with the chief counsel in 2011.
A reporter pressed White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on why the president’s appointee failed to share the shocking information with the White House, but the IRS said the meeting was with members of his office, not Wilkins himself. The implication was presumably that Wilkins was ignorant of the abuse.
The new information, though, will likely prompt closer examination of his role and his connections with the White House.