The House Oversight Committee hearing on the IRS scandal is underway. I missed the beginning because I was appearing on Chuck Morse’s radio program.
I’m tuned in now and will do a bit of live-blogging. I understand that, as expected, IRS official Lois Lerner has invoked the Fifth Amendment and, after saying she would answer no questions, has been dismissed from the hearing.
I caught the end of the questioning by Ranking Member Elijah Cummings. He was irate, particularly about the failure of the IRS to come forward with information about targeting, even though Congress had been inquiring about it. When a leading Democrat is this irate, it becomes difficult to minimize the scandal.
Several other Democrats are similarly irate. There’s nothing I’ve heard so far from the Dems about how the IRS needs more funding or how the Supreme Court’s decisions on campaign finance are to blame.
The Democrats’ strategy, I think, is “vent and hope.” Vent at former IRS director Douglas Shulman and hope that evidence of direct culpability by the White House doesn’t emerge.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, a tax cheat, is now doing the questioning. She makes a brief reference to the campaign finance law. Then, she asks the IRS Inspector General whether he found any evidence of White House involvement in the targeting. He says he found no evidence, but did not look at this matter.
Jim Jordan provides some numbers. In one year, IRS Director Shulman visited the White House 118 times. He received 132 letters from Congress asking about “targeting issues.” There were dozens of major press stories about possible targeting during this period.
But Shulman testifies that he has no recollection of talking at the White House about issues relating to targeting. But then, he testified previously that there was absolutely no targeting going on.
Democrat Gerald Connolly shows himself to be the biggest partisan hack on the committee, by complaining about lack of IRS resources and the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. Lack of resources can explain a lot, but I don’t see how it explains the targeting of conservative groups.
Using terms like “Tea Party” may have streamlined the IRS’s work. But there are many other terms that could have been used for streamlining. Terms that would have identified left-wing operations weren’t used.
Responding to Jim Jordan, Shulman says that the implementation of Obamacare was a major topic during his visits to the White House. Jordan notes that many of the groups targeted by the IRS came into being in response to Obamacare. And the targeting began the month that Obamacare was enacted. But Shulman sticks to his testimony that he doesn’t believe he spoke at the White House about targeting anyone or about 504(c)(4) groups.
The IRS Inspector General says he still hasn’t been able to figure out the identity of the Cincinnati IRS employees who did the targeting. He explains that he’s only conducting an audit so he can’t put people under oath. And he suggests that IRS employees aren’t providing clear and full information.
I doubt that we can get to the bottom of who, up and down the chain of command, is responsible for the targeting unless this becomes a full-fledged investigation. And it’s questionable whether the investigation should be conducted internally.
The IRS IG says that he found no evidence that the targeting of conservative groups was motivated by political considerations. But I would submit that the offensiveness of some of the very lines of inquiry by the IRS — e.g., about the content of prayers — is evidence of targeting based on political motive. And it appears that Lois Lerner in the past has shown inordinate interest in the content of the prayers of conservatives.
I’m going to sign off and get some lunch.