An IRS scandal that has captivated much of Washington since last week continued to unfold Friday, when members of the House Ways and Means Committee began questioning agency officials.
A hearing was held at 9 a.m. EDT, with lawmakers probing the extent to which IRS employees discriminate against conservative groups. The IRS admitted last Friday that it specifically targeted tea party groups for special scrutiny between 2010 and 2012 when they applied for tax-exempt status.
Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner, recently resigned following the scandal. He testified this morning. So did J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration. An audit from George has found that the IRS inappropriately targeted the groups.
Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said he wants to know who started the targeting and who knew what and how far it went. “The American people have a right to the truth, to a government that delivers the facts good or bad, no matter what," he said.
Michigan Rep. Sander Levin said, "We must seek the truth, not political gain."
Watch a live stream of the hearing or read the live blog below.
12:53 p.m. ET: The meeting is adjourned.
12:37 p.m. ET: IG George says since starting in his job in November 2004, he has never seen anything of this magnitude at the IRS.
“This is very chilling for the American people,” Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., tells the witnesses. “This is a Pandora’s box. This is not going to go away.”
Kelly says the actions of the IRS reconfirms everything that the American believe. “Is there any limit to the scope you people can go?” he asks. “You don’t think that’s intimidating?” he says of the questions sent to nonprofits. “You can put anybody out of business anytime you want.”
The lawmaker says when the IRS gets involved no one is allowed to make mistakes. He calls it an outrage for all Americans.
[The room applauses and the chairman is forced to call for order.]
12:26 p.m. ET: Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., says while there is focus on the who, what, when and how of the IRS scandal, he wants to know why these groups were specially scrutinized. Reed calls it “targeting-gate.” He demands from Inspector George the names of all those involved.
11:57 a.m. ET: “I am not convinced that this is a great, big political conspiracy,” Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., says. He sees it more as “ineptitude.”
Miller says, “There’s no question that this has damaged the reputation of this organization.” He refuses to recommend a course of action, leaving that up to the new IRS commissioner. Treasury Inspector General George says more training is needed at the IRS. He points out the high turnover rate of low-level employees at the IRS.
11:48 a.m. ET: Miller defines political campaign activities as having limits. “You need a candidate, a political office,” he says.
The former IRS chief says the method of processing the applications was “flawed" and that the letters sent to conservative groups were "very broad."
In responding to questions about donor lists, Miller says donor information can be relevant but shouldn’t be used in every case. “To just ask for donors without a rationale shouldn’t be done,” Miller says.
Treasury Inspector General George says 27 donor lists were requested by the IRS.
11:41 a.m. ET: Miller tells lawmakers he was asked to resign and that he will retire but says the IRS isn't done yet because, with the facts present in the inspector general's report, actions need to be taken. His comments suggest that more employees may be disciplined or shown the door. But who and how far up are yet to be seen.
11:23 a.m. ET: When Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., asks about accountability at the Cincinnati office, Miller says the agency is now in possession of the facts since the treasury inspector general report has been released. He says now that the facts are in hand, it's time to look at accountability.
Miller confirms earlier reports that two employees at the Cincinnati office were disciplined.
CNN reported Thursday that the revenue agency identified two “rogue” employees who were reportedly responsible for handling the tax-exempt status applications.
11:17 a.m. ET: “It was never the intention or belief that these facts would not come out in full,” Miller tells lawmakers.
11:07 a.m. ET: Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., points out the process of discovery to Miller and then asks Miller if he doesn’t think it was his duty to provide lawmakers with details of what he knew.
“I was in possession of some facts. I wasn’t in possession of all facts,” Miller says, adding that he didn't want to give lawmakers the wrong information. Miller says he wanted Congress to learn of the actions at the IRS the same time it was disclosed to the American Bar Association last week. However, Miller tells lawmakers that never happened but says efforts were made. The former IRS head admits to reaching out to the committee by calling and trying to get on the calendar.
“You called and tried to get on the calendar. Is that all you got?” Roskam asks.
"It is the truth," Miller says.
It's important to note here that the Justice Department is looking into whether criminal wrongdoing occured at the IRS. And with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, talking about jail time, it is no wonder Miller is choosing his words carefully.
“My question isn’t about who is going to resign,” Boehner said on Wednesday. “My question is who’s going to jail over this scandal?”
Watch Boehner's tough talk in the video below:
11:03 a.m. ET: Hearing resumes.
10:41 a.m. ET: Committee recesses for 15 minutes.
10:38 a.m. ET: Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., asks Miller whether the committee and Congress had a right to know the information he knew about the IRS’s actions.
Miller remains adamant he answered all the questions. Reichert points out to the former IRS chief that he has once again given another non-answer. The congressman continues to press Miller on why Congress wasn’t initially informed.
“I answered all questions truthfully,” Miller says.
A visibly frustrated Reichert tells Miller, “You are not going to cooperate with me, Mr. Miller.” He then points out that Miller has been “uncooperative throughout the meeting.”
10:30 a.m. ET: Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., asks Miller if the law is clear to him on what is political campaign activity.
“No, it’s very difficult, sir,” Miller says.
10:26 a.m. ET: Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, shows Miller a huge binder full of questions the IRS sent to an Ohio tea party group, requesting additional information. Many of these groups experienced 18-month delays in processing their application. Some have not yet received their tax-exempt status.
10:17 a.m. ET: Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., asks Miller why he resigned.
“I resigned because what happens in the IRS stops at my desk,” Miller says. Miller explains to the congressman that he himself is accountable as head of the revenue agency. Miller is quick to add that whether he is personally involved “is a different question.”
10:05 a.m. ET: Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan charges that Miller misled the committee. However, Miller denies it. Ryan reads to Miller the number of inapproriate things that happened at the revenue agency and asks, “Do you not think that is a very incomplete answer?”
Time runs out before Miller can fully answer.
9:54 a.m. ET: Rep. Kevin Brady asks if the government is so “drunk on power” that it will harass Americans who want to get their voices heard. He asks bluntly, “Mr. Miller, who is responsible for targeting these groups?” He says, you had a “be-on-the-lookout list.”
“I don’t have names for you, Mr. Brady,” Miller says.
Brady asks for assurance that confidential information hasn’t been shared.
Miller says sharing confidential information would be a violation of law and that “I would be shocked if that happened.”
9:44 a.m. ET: Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., asks Miller why he misled Congress and the American people about these IRS’s inappropriate activities. “Mr. Chairman, I didn’t mislead Congress or the American people,” Miller says.
Brady asks for assurances that confidential information hasn’t been shared. Short of giving the assurance the the lawmaker seeks, Miller says sharing confidential information would be a violation of law and that “I would be shocked if that happened.”
9:38 a.m. ET: Ranking member Levin begins his round of questioning. He asks George if he found any evidence of political motivation in the processing of tax-exempt applications from conservative organizations. “We did not, sir,” George responds.
9:32 a.m. ET: Miller says he was made aware of the IRS release of confidential information to ProPublica but couldn’t give an exact date. When asked if he ever informed Congress of his knowledge of these leaks, Miller responds, “They were in the press, sir.”
9:28 a.m. ET: Chairman Camp carefully questions Miller about when he was made aware of certain public disclosures at the agency.
9:24 a.m. ET: Miller apologizes, saying the American people deserve better. He adds that partisanship or the perception of partisanship has no place within the IRS. “What happened here is that foolish mistakes were made [by people] trying to be efficient.”
Laura is a U.S. politics reporter for the International Business Times. She was always fascinated by the BBC World News each morning on the radio in Jamaica. That, and a love...