Former IRS chief faces bipartisan ire on Capitol Hill

Panels want to know what he knew of scrutiny

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As the IRS scandal gains traction and a bipartisan chorus on Capitol Hill demands more answers, the man who headed the agency at the time it was targeting conservative groups will be on the hot seat twice this week.

Former Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman, a George W. Bush appointee who stepped down in November when his term expired, has kept a low profile since the scandal broke May 10. But the Senate Finance Committee will get first crack at him Tuesday morning, eager to learn what he knew of his agency’s singling out for extra scrutiny tea party and other conservative groups that were applying for tax-exempt status from 2010 to 2012.

Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller and J. Russell George, the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration who oversaw a yearlong investigation of the IRS scandal, also will testify before the Senate panel.

It’s the second of what is expected to be several Capitol Hill hearings on the matter in the coming months. On Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee kicked off the inquires as members of both parties grilled Mr. Miller, who apologized for his agency’s improper target of conservative groups but said he doesn’t think it broke any laws.

On Wednesday, Mr. Shulman and Mr. George also are scheduled to appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The witness list includes Treasury Deputy Secretary Neal S. Wolin and Lois Lerner, the IRS division head for tax-exempt groups who earlier this month was the first agency official to admit to the targeting.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the Senate Finance Committee’s senior Republican, has particular interest in questioning Mr. Shulman. The Utah senator wrote Mr. Shulman last May asking him to respond to rumors the IRS had publicly disclosed confidential donor information about the National Organization for Marriage. Mr. Hatch said he never got a response.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this, except in the past during the Nixon years,” Mr. Hatch said last week of the unfolding scandal.

Mr. Hatch and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, on Monday collectively sent a letter to Mr. Miller — who will resign in early June at the request of President Obama — demanding the IRS turn over a horde of documents and correspondence regarding the scandal.

The 41 separate demands include copies of all questions used by the agency to get additional information from groups seeking nonprofit status since Feb. 1, 2010 about their relationships with political candidates and “a list of all words and phrases used by the IRS to target applications for additional scrutiny,” including words and phrases not reported in the recent inspector general’s audit.

“These actions by the IRS appear to be a clear breach of the public’s trust,” the senators wrote. “Targeting groups based on their political views is not only inappropriate but it is also intolerable.”

On Wednesday, lawmakers will get their first chance to directly query Ms. Lerner, who unexpectedly made the IRS targeting scenario public at a legal conference May 10. Many lawmakers are angry she didn’t first inform Congress, particularly since Capitol Hill Republicans in both chambers last year failed to get a response from the IRS regarding rumors the agency was unfairly treating tea party groups.

Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said Mr. Lerner’s decision to keep Congress in the dark was “unacceptable” and has called for her to resign.

Congressional frustration with Ms. Lerner amped up Friday when Mr. Miller told the House Ways and Means panel that the woman whose question at the American Bar Association conference prompted Ms. Lerner to admit to the targeting had been asked by Ms. Lerner ahead of time to pose the question.

Mr. Miller has denied that political motivation was behind his agency’s singling out groups for special scrutiny that included the conservative buzzwords “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their names. Rather, he has portrayed a scenario of overworked IRS agents simply looking for shortcuts to tackle burgeoning caseloads of groups applying for tax-exempt status.

Republicans particularly have focused on the scandal, and some have questioned whether blame reaches as high as the Obama administration. At the Ways and Means hearing, Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, said the matter showed a “culture of cover-ups” and “political intimidation” within the Obama administration.

Mr. Camp also suggested that the White House hid the scandal until after the 2012 elections, though he offered no examples or evidence.

The Obama administration has denied any connection with the IRS‘ targeting of conservative groups.

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday said White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler was first informed about the inspector general’s report — which was released May 14 — on April 24. Mr. Carney said she notified senior staff, including Denis McDonough, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, but “appropriately” decided not to tell the president at the time because the audit was ongoing.

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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