IRS IG: Audit never labeled groups ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’

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“Frankly, I would have loved to have had that information in May of 2012 that dozens and dozens and dozens of conservative groups were being targeted and you chose not to give it to the very committee who asked for the audit,” he said. “And that’s fine. That’s your role. But this idea that you’re somehow favoring the Republicans — I just don’t get it.”

Mr. George said his investigators are reviewing the new information on liberal groups provided by the IRS, but do not have full audit findings on the use of the other criteria.

During the hearing, IRS employees also shot down the idea that the Cincinnati field office acted independently, publicly linking for the first time the extra scrutiny of conservative groups to political appointees in Washington.

Carter Hull, a tax law specialist with 48 years of experience at the IRS, told investigators that Ms. Lerner, who famously pleaded the Fifth Amendment in a hearing, demanded that he send some of the reviews of tea party groups he was prepared to complete to the IRS chief counsel’s office in Washington. The chief counsel is one of two political appointees in the IRS.

Mr. Hull said during his testimony that extra review was “unusual.” He said he wasn’t told to hold up applications, but they were delayed by the extra review.

Mr. George rejected assertions from Democrats that he failed to disclose that his team found no political motivation in the cases it examined and that he may have improperly prevented disclosure of that information.

“It is important that I be clear on this point: none of this information has been withheld from Congress,” he said. The inspector general’s office “provided it in an unredacted form to the tax committees entitled to receive this information weeks ago.”

The Internal Revenue Service has come under fire during the past several months after Mr. George first revealed that the agency was targeting conservative groups for intrusive scrutiny. This week, The Washington Times reported that government employees also improperly accessed IRS information to look at data on selected political candidates and donors. In one case, the investigator said the violation was willful, and referred it to the Justice Department, which declined to pursue the case.

Mr. Issa said in his opening statement that the committee will continue to seek answers, but that it’s clear the fiasco was not limited to a few employees from the Cincinnati office of the IRS, which had initially been claimed.

“As we look for the truth, let us bear in mind that we can debunk many things along the way. We will probably never debunk all accusations. Nor should we make accusations unless testimony and evidence takes us there,” Mr. Issa said.

Mr. Issa and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s ranking Democrat, later had a testy exchange after Mr. Cummings accused the chairman of trying to link the scandal to the White House.

“Our chairman led the charge, saying this was the ‘targeting of the president’s political enemies,’” Mr. Cummings said, adding that other Republicans followed suit. “The fact is that there is no evidence before this committee to support these claims — none.”

Mr. Issa shot back that he is always shocked that Mr. Cummings “seems to want to say like a little boy whose hand is caught in the cookie jar, ‘What hand, what cookie?’ I’ve never said that it leads to the White House.”

Since Mr. George issued his report, three congressional committees and the Justice Department launched investigations and much of the top leadership was replaced, including the acting commissioner.

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