The IRS’s director of privacy, governmental liaison and disclosure division testified Wednesday that the tax agency set up a special team with hundreds of lawyers to handle the probe into whether Tea Party groups were targeted, but repeatedly said she had no idea how it operated.
Mary Howard, who also works as the head Freedom of Information Act officer in the IRS, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that once the “special project team” was created and operational, she never saw requests for information.
“My understanding was that it started soon after the request came from Congress and other investigators asking for documents around this whole issue,” which she surmised meant around spring of 2013.
Asked who was on the team, she said: “My first hand knowledge of that is none.” But she did say the Chief Council of the IRS — one of only two political appointees in the IRS; the other is the commissioner — was on the “special project team,” as were “hundreds of attorneys.”
She said her office did not interact with the White House, but asked whether the “special project team” did, said: “I have no personal knowledge of how that team acted except that I know they amassed hundreds of attorneys to go through the documents and redact them.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, was incensed that she didn’t know. “You don’t think the White House has an interest in knowing about information related to the Internal Revenue Service targeting people, you don’t think they have an interest in that?”
Republican Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz also asked about the information requests after news broke that the IRS was targeting conservative groups, holding up their requests for tax-exempt status.
Those requests “went to the commissioner, and it went to the general counsel,” he said. “There’s only two political appointees in all of the IRS, the commissioner and the general counsel. Those are the only two out of 90,000.”…
“I think that Lois Lerner was the tip of the iceberg,” Howard said.
“Really?” Chaffetz said. “So do we.”
Congress held Lerner in contempt after she claimed she did not know about the targeting, but then later took the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions. She was never prosecuted by the Justice Department, but two dozen House members want new Attorney General Loretta Lynch to pursue charges.