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The questioning of IRS chief Daniel Werfel by the House Ways and Means Committee today began with fireworks as committee chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., pushed back strongly against Werfel’s claim that an internal IRS investigation has found “no wrongdoing” among IRS employees and that progressive as well as conservative groups were targeted for additional scrutiny upon applying for tax-exempt status.
The attempt by Democrats to claim the IRS targeted progressive as well as conservative groups was derailed by the release of a report by the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration.
Werfel’s claim that an IRS internal investigation found no wrongdoing by IRS employees in the handling of applications for tax-exempt status was countered by Camp, who characterized Werfel’s investigation as “incomplete.”
The hearing began with Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., the ranking member of the committee, attempting to shift the focus of the investigation to argue the IRS had targeted progressive groups along with conservative groups.
Camp, countering Levin, pointedly read from the report by J. Russell George, the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration. George conclusion that 30 percent of the groups with “progressive” in their title were given extra credit, while 100 percent of groups with “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their titles were pulled out for strict scrutiny that the IRS has since admitted included invasive and inappropriate questions.
Statistical analysis in the inspector general’s report showed that the so-called “Be on the Lookout,” or BOLO lists, between May 2010 and May 2012, targeted for additional scrutiny only six progressive groups, compared to 292 conservative groups.
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, hit Werfel with a series of rapid-fire questions.
Brady demanded to know who within the IRS was responsible for initiating a wide range of “ideologically oriented” activities, including the targeting of conservative groups for additional scrutiny on their tax exempt-applications. He also wanted to know who within the IRS was responsible for targeting the donors of conservative groups and who was responsible for the leaking of information to the media regarding conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
“I don’t know,” was Werfel’s answer to each question Brady shot at him.
“Your report is a sham,” Brady said pointedly to Werfel, rejecting the IRS chief’s opening statement that his internal investigation had found no wrongdoing among IRS employees.
“You work for the American people and your job is not [to] cover up,” Brady said.
Appearing angered by Werfel’s answers, Brady explained sharply to Werfel that the House Ways and Means Committee intended to get the truth about the BOLO lists and IRS ideological targeting. Brady warned Werfel that he, too, would also be investigated if he attempted to stonewall or misrepresent facts.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., grilled Werfel on why the IRS budget request for Fiscal Year 2014 called for $1 billion in additional expenses even though Congress has already identified millions of dollars of questionable IRS expenses, including instances of waste and abuse in spending on training conferences.
“The costs you have identified are excessive and in many cases should not have happened,” Werfel said, attempting to defend the IRS. “But these expenses were from two or three years ago. These expenses are not continuing today.”
Ryan was not impressed.
“Why not make your cuts now and then come back to us for a budget increase?” Ryan asked, reminding Werfel that he worked for the taxpayer and not the other way around.
Charles Boustany Jr. R-La., directly asked Werfel if he was engaged in a cover-up.
“Is there a cover-up?” Werfel replied. “I don’t know the answer to that until we complete the investigation.”
Boustany followed:” “How can you maintain you don’t know if there was a wrong-doing?”