Home  »  Politics  »  Defiant IRS Chief Says Agency Wasn’t Targeting Conservatives, Just Making ‘Foolish Mistakes’ In Attempt ‘To Be More Efficient’

May 17, 2013 Comments Off Jack Flash

Excerpted from Politico: Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller struck a defiant tone on Friday under intense questioning from Republicans who railed against “systemic abuse” at the agency.

In the first congressional hearing probing the agency’s recently revealed practice of targeting conservative groups seeking a tax exemption, Miller apologized for “foolish mistakes” carried out by “people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection.”

But he strongly pushed back against Republican assertions that the agency is politicized, insisted that the practice of flagging key terms in applications for tax exemptions is legal and even praised a civil servant coming under heavy GOP criticism for working in the agency’s scandal-ridden tax exempt division before helping it implement the health care overhaul.

And he maintained that he didn’t lie to Congress — even though he never revealed the targeting program in response to repeated requests from Republican lawmakers in recent years.

“I did not mislead Congress,” he said. “I answered the questions as they were asked.”

The hearing, which spanned nearly four hours, left Republicans frustrated and yearning for more information.

Miller’s answers “are not very complete,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who led the hearing. “We’re not done. We found out about this a week ago, so we’re going to continue to examine.”

Miller stepped down on Wednesday at the request of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. But he told lawmakers at the hearing that he currently remains in the position as the agency transitions to a new leader. President Barack Obama said on Thursday that he appointed Daniel Werfel, the current controller of the Office of Management and Budget, to succeed Miller as acting IRS commissioner next week.

Two things became clear as the hearing played out: The IRS didn’t inadvertently announce the targeting program last year as it initially appeared, and Republicans are dedicated to expanding the scope of their investigation.

Miller indicated on Friday that agency officials had discussed how to talk about the controversial targeting program before Lois Lerner, the director of the agency’s tax exempt division, was scheduled to appear at an American Bar Association conference on May 10.

Her comments that the agency was wrong to flag nonprofit applications if they included the terms “tea party” or “patriot” triggered a firestorm that has held Washington’s attention for a week.

“I believe we talked about that,” Miller said, referring to the discussions in advance of Lerner’s public appearance.

Meanwhile, Republicans are making it clear they don’t intend to limit their investigations to the initial news that the IRS gave extra review to groups that used certain terms. Camp is also drawing in other IRS actions that have had conservatives stewing for a long time — like a March 2012 Huffington Post story that he said disclosed confidential donor information for the National Organization for Marriage.

He also cited a ProPublica article that said the IRS had leaked the applications conservative groups had submitted for tax-exempt status.

Meanwhile, Miller maintained the agency’s insistence that no one at the IRS told the White House of its activities.

Miller’s testimony didn’t go far to soothe the outrage that has festered among Republicans.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who sits on Ways and Means, added to the GOP narrative that the IRS intentionally withheld key information from Congress.

“How can we not conclude that you misled” lawmakers, he asked.

“Is this still America?” asked Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas). “Is this government so drunk on power that it would turn its full force … to harass” Americans?

Miller responded that he took “exception” to the term “targeting.”

“It’s a loaded term,” he said.

He later explained that he felt the term “implies something that didn’t exist here.”

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