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House Republicans called the first hearing on the IRS activities last week, and Senate Democrats called Tuesday’s hearing.

Democrats condemned the IRS actions but said part of the blame belongs to the foggy legal environment that led to the scandal.

Applicants who were singled out for extra scrutiny had filed for tax-exempt status under a portion of the tax code that limits their political activities as “social welfare” groups. As 501(c)(4) groups, they don’t have to report their donors.

“Clearly, a Mack truck is being driven through the 501(c)(4) loophole,” Mr. Baucus said, noting that he had asked the IRS to investigate the issue in late 2010.

Democrats said the situation raises questions about whether the IRS has the resources it needs to vet thousands of applications for tax-exempt status, which may be skirting the limits of campaign finance law.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said he would like the revenue agency and the Federal Election Commission to come up with rules to guide tax-exempt groups that delve into partisan politics.

J. Russell George, the inspector general whose findings are driving congressional inquiries, testified Tuesday that his office is following up its audit with a detailed look at the IRS oversight of tax-exempt groups.

Republicans said their investigation of the IRS has just begun, and they were skeptical of the inspector general’s conclusion that the agency’s scrutiny was not politically motivated.

“I think it is almost beyond belief,” said Sen. Mike Crapo, Idaho Republican, noting that the inspector general had to rely on the word of people implicated in the scandal, and they weren’t under oath when they provided information for the audit.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the finance panel’s ranking Republican, accused high-level IRS officials past and present of failing to let Congress know about the targeted scrutiny, even after members requested details.

Mr. Miller, who was forced to resign as acting commissioner, said he never lied.

“I answered the questions. I answered them truthfully,” he said.

The turmoil surrounding the IRS broke this month when Ms. Lerner, trying to beat the auditor’s damning report, planted a question at a speech she was giving.

“Obviously, the entire thing was an incredibly bad idea,” Mr. Miller told the committee Tuesday.

The White House said top officials there were part of the discussion over how to release the information, but did not approve the staged question.

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