WASHINGTON — “The IRS scandal is not over. It is continuing to this day. And the Department of Justice investigation is a sham. It is a nonexistent investigation,” a high-powered Washington attorney testified before Congress Thursday morning.
Attorney Cleta Mitchell, who represents many tea-party groups, blasted President Obama’s claim on Sunday that there is no IRS scandal, and his insistence that there was “not even a smidgen of corruption” in the agency’s targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
“The IRS scandal is not just a bone-headed bunch of bureaucrats in some remote office, contrary to what the president of the United States told the American people,” she said.
Addressing the House Government Reform and Oversight committee, Mitchell explained the IRS targeting of conservative groups was politically motivated because the direction came from "political elites in Washington — not in Cincinnati, but Washington."
The attorney said she knew as far back as October of 2011 that the targeting was being guided by Washington, because when she contacted the Cincinnati IRS agent assigned to one of her clients and offered to try to help smooth the application process, she said she was told, "Oh, there's a task force in Washington; we can't do anything until we hear back from Washington."
Mitchell said the IRS, under Obama, took what had been for decades a process of reviewing applications for exempt status that 4(01) or 501(c)(4) organization that could be expected to take three to four weeks and "converted that process into one that took three to four years, and in some cases is still not over."
Former federal prosecutor Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., also took dead aim at Obama's claim that there was no corruption in the IRS targeting conservative groups, especially in the tax-exempt division formerly head by Lois Lerner. He also referred to the fact that investigators have not interviewed clients represented by either Mitchell or Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel, American Center for Law and Justice, who also testified.
"How can the president say there's not a smidgen of criminality when Lois Lerner invoked the 5th Amendment, 41 witnesses haven't been interviewed – including the two that are here right now? How can he possibly draw that conclusion?!" Gowdy demanded.
The congressman also maintained the president's claims tainted the Department of Justice investigation into the IRS and called for Obama to appoint a special counsel.
Recent testimony in another congressional hearing also contradicts Obama's claim IRS scrutiny of conservatives groups was really just "bureaucratic" mistakes in interpreting "difficult" laws.
At a House Ways and Means on Wednesday, Chairman Dave Camp revealed a June 14, 2012, email from Treasury Department attorney Ruth Madrigal to key IRS officials in the tax-exempt department, including Lerner, on an apparently secret effort to rewrite policy to further crack down on such nonprofits as tea-party organizations.
The 2012 email said, "Don't know who in your organization is keeping tabs on c4s, but since we mentioned potentially addressing them (off-plan) in 2013, I've got my radar up and this seemed interesting."
Camp noted that in this case "off-plan" appears to mean "hidden from the public."
The email is the first time Lerner, who directed the IRS scrutiny of conservative groups, has been tied to the efforts to install the proposed rule change.
As WND reported, on Nov. 29, 2013, the day after Thanksgiving, the IRS quietly proposed regulations that critics say would drastically change the nature of elections and severely limit the power of conservative grassroots organizations, such as tea parties, by redefining what is considered tax-exempt political activity.
Now, GOP leaders have written a letter to new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen asking him to scrap the proposed rule.
They said it would legitimize targeting political active groups seeking tax-exempt status, including the very same conservative groups the IRS is accused of harassing for years under the Obama administration.
The administration has tried to sell the proposal as a way to clarify the rules, and create "clear-cut definitions of political activity."
But Republicans say it is a brazen attempt to turn abuses into the rule rather than the exception, and that Lerner's involvement taints the entire process.
"It is our view that finalizing this proposed rule would make intimidation and harassment of the administration's political opponents the official policy of the IRS and would allow the Obama administration to use your agency as a partisan tool," Republicans wrote to Koskinen.
The Oversight committee had asked the woman reported to be leading the Justice Department investigation into the IRS scandal, Barbara Bosserman, to appear at Thursday's hearing.
GOP leaders have questioned her fitness to run the investigation ever since it was discovered she "has donated a combined $6,750 to President Obama’s election campaigns and the Democratic National Committee since 2004, with the vast majority of the contributions coming during the last two presidential election cycles, according to federal campaign-finance records."
Oversight Committee Chariman Darrell Issa called that “highly inappropriate" and it has "compromised the administration’s investigation of the IRS.”
After Bosserman's donations became public knowledge, the Justice Department claimed she is not heading the investigation, but is simply a member of the team.
However, the department refused to let Bosserman appear before Issa's committee, saying that was standard practice during an ongoing investigation.
Rep, Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who chaired today's hearing, replied that the committee could ask her about matters that did not involve details of the investigations, such as whether her political donations amounted to a conflict of interest in her role as an investigator.
But the Justice Department sill declined to let her appear.
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth