Will IRS Hearings Spill More Secrets?

Lois Lerner, head of the Internal Revenue Service’s tax-exempt division, has invoked her 5th Amendment rights as hearings begin on the IRS controversy.

Having been head of the tax-exempt division at a time when they were improperly targeting conservative groups, Lerner told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that, “I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS regulations. And I have not provided false information to this or any other committee.” She then declined to answer the committee’s questions, on advice of counsel.

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The opening statement from Lerner roused a bit of controversy itself, as Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) insisted that she should stay, and that her opening statement had rescinded her 5th Amendment rights. However, Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, let her go with the caveat of her being called back, should the committee find she used her 5th Amendment privilege improperly.

With Rep. Issa leading the charge, others were not spared questioning. Douglas Shulman, head of the IRS during President Obama’s first term, J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, and Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, all made appearances before the committee as Congress tried to sort out the mess created by the IRS.

Issa claimed that Congress was not well informed with its findings, and told George that “you have a responsibility to keep us continually and … equally informed.” George replied, telling Issa that information given to Congress “sometimes is not retained on the Hill.”

The audit found that the improper practices had begun in Cincinnati in 2010, and were not rectified until May 2012, with George commenting, “These practices were inappropriate,” and that “They remained in effect for approximately 18 months.”

Shulman also had a showdown on the Hill, appearing before the Senate Finance Committee, and deflecting any notion that he was responsible for the practices that began in the Cincinnati office. Being provoked by Senator’s to accept fault, Shulman said, “I certainly am not personally responsible for making a list that had inappropriate criteria on it. With that said, this happened on my watch, and I very much regret that this happened on my watch.”

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The embattled Shulman was also scrutinized for his failure to come forward with information of the discriminatory screening practices. Claiming he knew of a list of criteria being used in spring 2012, albeit without a full set of facts, Shulman declared ignorance, saying that he “didn’t know the scope and severity of this.”

Also questioned was Steven T. Miller, former Acting Commissioner for the IRS, who described the agency’s botched attempt to issue an apology.

In attempt to get an apology issued, Lerner and Miller worked to ensure that she would be asked a question at a conference hosted by the American Bar Association in Washington. Congress was upset that they had chosen to that over coming to them first, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew claims he would have “advised against” such a decision had he be consulted. In words used to describe the apology, Miller seemed to sum up the entirety of the IRS’s mess when he said, “Obviously, the entire thing was an incredibly bad idea.”

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