WASHINGTON — It’s the question everyone wants answered.
Rep. Tom Graves R-Ga., asked, “Has anyone asked who ordered” the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS?
Treasury Department Inspector Gen. J. Russell George replied, “No one would acknowledge”who gave the orders.
Graves then asked new Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel if he would find out.
“We will uncover every fact.” Werfel replied.
“No matter how far up the chain?”
“Yes,” Werfel said.
Appearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee Monday, George stopped short of categorically denying the political review of tax-exempt applications was limited to career appointees within IRS, suggesting the inspector general’s investigation was not yet complete and political influence exerted by the White House could not be ruled out.
Although he stopped short of placing specific blame for the IRS targeting of conservative groups, George admitted the IRS abuses resulted from “gross mismanagement.”
In a tense hearing with Republican members expressing outrage over the IRS targeting conservatives, lawmakers made it clear Congress was serious about getting to the bottom of the scandal.
Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky. threatened Werfel with budget cuts, saying, “We are prepared to use the power of the purse to get to that truth.”
“It just doesn’t make sense that the targeting of Tea Party groups was the responsibility of a few rogue employees in Cincinnati,” Rogers insisted.
“It’s likely Washington was closely involved from the beginning in the targeting of Tea Party and pro-life groups. Numerous investigators have conclusively established these orders came from on-high in Washington, D.C. We will not rest, Mr. Werfel, until we have the answers to these questions,” added Rogers.
In his opening statement, Ander Crenshaw, R-Fl., also pressured Werfel to explain the steps he was going to take to identify how the IRS abuses happened.
“Here’s what we need to know,” Crenshaw pressed Werfel. “In an arrogant and absolute abuse of power, the IRS office in Cincinnati signaled out groups and individuals based on their political philosophy for extra scrutiny. They were harassed, intimidated, and bullied. And no one spoke up.”
As the hearings proceeded, Crenshaw continued to express his frustration that Werfel was not specifying the exact steps he would take to identifying culprits within the IRS.
“You can argue that the $50 million spent on conferences and videos was gross mismanagement,” Crenshaw said. “Common sense tells you that targeting conservatives is not just gross mismanagement, but something gone wrong. How did this happen? This didn’t just happen, unless somebody came up with this plan. If so, who came up with this plan and how are you going to find out?”
Crenshaw insisted he was going to demand the IRS demonstrate to the House Appropriations Committee that the funds allocated the IRS by Congress “are used without a hint of partisanship or ideology when it comes to the application of our tax laws.”
“Do you feel the IRS has betrayed the trust of the American people?” Crenshaw asked Werfel.
“I do,” Werfel admitted, claiming restoring the trust will involve a multi-step process that must begin by attributing responsibility to those within the IRS that committed the abuses.
“There was a fundamental failure and the solution here is not more money, but understanding what controls, what oversight needs to be put in place,” he added.
Crenshaw suggested Congress will have to think carefully “about the amount of money we provide the IRS,” suggesting the agency’s request for $12.9 billion for fiscal year 2014 – $1 billion more than was appropriated in 2013 – might be cut, indicating Congress might possibly consider imposing “conditions” on the agency’s budget allowing Congress to monitor IRS spending in the future.
Democrats on the subcommittee pushed back, suggesting Republicans would not be satisfied until ultimate responsibility was placed on President Obama in the White House.
“When we looked at the 298 cases selected for ‘special treatment’ by the IRS, we found 79 that had ‘Tea Party’ or ‘911’ associated with their names, the rest had names so innocuous that we could not readily identify the political activity of the groups as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative,” George explained to Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, whose questions suggested the increased IRS scrutiny was not politically motivated.
Werfel balked under questioning to acknowledge IRS career employees would be terminated for malfeasance, even though he admitted the IRS had fundamentally violated the public trust.