Given all of the criticism and scrutiny the Internal Revenue Service is facing from both Congress and the American people over its targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups, one would think that agency officials would be digging deeper in trying to figure out who was responsible. But that hasn’t happened, at least not to this point.
On Monday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government held a hearing on the scandal that has plagued the IRS. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) asked acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel about accountability in the agency and if anyone had asked employees in the Cincinnati office who was responsible.
During his first round of questioning, Rep. Graves asked Werfel who had been held accountable. Werfel pointed to the two resignations — then-acting Commissioner Steven Miller and Tax Exempt Division chief Joseph Grant — that have happened since the scandal became public knowledge.
“So, a resignation is accountability? Is that what you’re telling the American people?” asked Graves. As Werfel began to answer, Graves cut him off to as inquired about Lois Lerner, the embattled director of the IRS’s Tax Exempt Division. “Is Lois Lerner being on administrative leave, is that accountability? Is Lois Lerner still being paid today?”
“She is,” responded Werfel.
“Is that your definition of accountability?” Graves shot back.
Tea Party and conservative groups had a chance yesterday to discuss being targeted by the Internal Revenue Service yesterday before the House Ways and Means Committee. What they told members during the hearing indicates a broader scandal than the IRS and the White House want to admit:
Internal Revenue Service targeting of political groups was not limited to front-line employees in the agency’s Cincinnati, Ohio, office, according to testimony before a House committee on Tuesday.
One group that testified at a Tuesday hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee told members that the 29-month delay in its yet-unapproved tax-exempt status application was the result of orders from higher-ups at the agency.
“Contrary to the statements of [IRS tax exempt division head] Lois Lerner, the targeting of Linchpins of Liberty was not merely the independent act of a few agents in Cincinnati,” testified Kevin Kookogey, the group’s founder and president.
When Kookogey asked a Cincinnati IRS agent about the delays in his application, he was told, “We have been waiting on guidance from our superiors as to your organization and similar organizations.”
Kookogey says he did not know “from where this ‘guidance’ was coming, [but] it was clearly implied that it was not from down the hall.”
The Internal Revenue Service is facing more scrutiny. Not only are congressional investigators looking into the agency’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative organizations that were seeking tax-exempt status, a forthcoming report will show that the IRS spent lavishly on conferences over a three-year period:
The Internal Revenue Service is facing criticism over past spending at its staff conferences, the latest controversy to hit the agency.
An internal watchdog at the Treasury Department is set to report Tuesday that the IRS spent almost $50 million on more than 200 employee conferences from 2010 through 2012, spending the tax-collecting agency’s new acting commissioner called “inappropriate.” The findings come amid revelations that the IRS targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status and mark the second time in the past year that a federal agency has come under fire for its spending on conferences.
And just a few months after the IRS was criticized for wasting taxpayer money on a poorly produced Star Trek-theme training video, yet another video has come out that shows IRS employees linedancing. The purpose of the video, which cost $1,600 to make, isn’t exactly known, though it was shown at a 2010 conference.
During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, revealed that IRS employees in the agency Cincinnati office have said that the directive to target Tea Party and conservative groups came from Washington:
In an exclusive interview Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa said interviews with workers in the Cincinnati IRS office show targeting of conservative groups was “a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters - and we’re getting to proving it.”
“My gut tells me that too many people knew this wrongdoing was going on before the election, and at least by some sort of convenient, benign neglect, allowed it to go on through the election,” he said. “I’m not making any allegations as to motive, that they set out to do it, but certainly people knew it was happening.”
One of the employees hit back against accusations that lower-level employees were responsible for the scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status in 2010, telling congressional investigators that the Ohio employees were being “thrown underneath the bus.”
A second “more senior” Cincinnati IRS employee said they began seeking other jobs when they were assigned to look out for applications from tea party groups, because they felt it was inappropriate.
Julie Borowski, perhaps best known as the TokenLibertarianGirl, is out with a new video this week addressing the three scandals — IRS discrimination of conservative groups, the DOJ’s targeting of the media, and Benghazi — that have plagued the Obama Administration over the last few weeks.
Borowski scoffs at the notion of Attorney General Eric Holder investigating himself over the Justice Department’s scandals concerning the targeting of the Associated Press and James Rosen. “I’m sure that’s gonna be a very fair investigation of himself,” says Borowski, with a truckload of sarcasm. She also touched on the situation in Syria and explained how terrible of an idea it is to fund rebels connected to al-Qaeda.
President Barack Obama may have refused to get behind an independent investigation into the IRS scandal, but a new Quinnipiac poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly support the idea (emphasis mine);
A Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday shows 76 percent want a special counsel to 17 percent opposing.
The idea has strong support across all parties, with 88 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of independents calling for a special prosecutor.
“There is overwhelming bipartisan support for a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Institute Assistant Director Peter Brown in a statement. “Voters apparently don’t like the idea of Attorney General Eric Holder investigating the matter himself, perhaps because they don’t exactly think highly of him.”
Holder, who would appoint a special investigator, holds a negative 23 to 39 percent approval rating.
The poll also showed that President Obama’s job approval rating is now underwater, at 45/49, which the Wall Street Journal notes is down from the net-positive approval rating he had in a poll released by the same organization earlier this month. The IRS’s job approval rating is also vastly underwater, at 24/66.
During last week’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) grilled former IRS Commission Doug Shulman about the targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups that happened on his watch.
Jordan noted that 132 members of Congress asked Shulman about targeting of conservative groups and that 42 major news stories had been written about that same subject. But after getting evasive and deflective answers from Shulman, Jordan moved onto another matter.
He was particularly interested in the 118 trips that Shulman made to the White House in between 2010 and 2011. Shulman claimed that the visits were for budgetary and policy issues, and denied that he ever discussed the targeting of these groups during his trips to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“One hundred and eighteen times you were at the White House, 132 Members of Congress contact you about this information, 42 major news stories about this very subject and you told Congress a year ago, ‘I can give you assurances nothing is going on, everything is wonderful, we’re not targeting conservative groups,” Jordan told Shulman, who was testifying under oath. “That’s why the American people are like, ‘This is unbelievable.’”
Jordan pressed him once again. “One hundred and eighteen visits, it didn’t come up in a causal conversation after 132 members of Congress contacted you about it, are you sure you didn’t bring it up with anybody at the White House?” the Ohio Republican asked.
“Not to my memory,” replied Shulman with a smug laugh, “and it wouldn’t be appropriate, so I certainly believe I did not have any conversations.”
Much is being made about Bob Dole’s appearance this weekend on Fox News Sunday. During interview, the former Senator from Kansas and 1996 Republican Party presidential nominee criticized his party for its lack of ideas and claimed that he or even Ronald Reagan couldn’t make it in today’s GOP:
National Republicans have shifted so drastically in the past decade that the party’s most vaunted figure - former President Ronald Reagan - would no longer find a home in the GOP, former Sen. Bob Dole claimed Sunday.
“Reagan couldn’t have made it,” Dole said, adding he too would also have faced challenges in today’s Republican Party.
Instead of operating day-to-day in a nonelection year, the national party should focus on broader plans to rehabilitate itself after the losses of 2012, the former Kansas lawmaker said.
“I think they ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says ‘Closed for repairs’ until New Year’s Day next year. Spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas,” Dole, who was the Republican nominee for president in 1996, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Dole lamented the lack of compromise in Washington and was critical of President Obama, telling Wallace that the Commander-in-Chief “lacks communication skills with his own party, let alone the Republican Party.” He added that President Obama hasn’t reached out enough to Congress, which is a familiar criticism. Dole also said that President Obama is “on the road too much,” though he did say he was a “good golfer.”
Ben Swann has been doing great investigative reporting on the IRS scandal. Just last week, he exposed the names of Cincinnati-based employees who were allegedly at the heart of agency’s targeting of Tea Party groups.
Swann, a journalist with Ohio-based Fox 19, has noted that Cindy Thomas, the Program Manager of the Tax-Exempt Division in Cincinnati, had direct oversight of each of the employees connected to the scandal. She signed off on the private information sent to ProPublica, a left-leaning advocacy organization. It also appears that she and Lois Lerner, who has refused to testify on the matter to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, are apparently very close, which raises more questions about how high up this scandal goes in the agency.
While she may have escaped questioning under oath to this point, Swann’s reporting on the matter could lead Thomas straight before Chairman Darrell Issa and his committee:
Congress may be out of session for the next couple weeks, but the IRS scandal that has plagued the Obama Administration isn’t going away. There is still a lot of concern about the targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups being expressed from both sides of the aisle, but the White House and most congressional Democrats are still pushing back against an independent investigation of the embattled agency.
But with polls showing increasing disapproval with the IRS and the scandal only deepening, more will need to be done to allay the concerns that are now being expressed by the American people. The agency knew that these groups were being targeted, even as members of Congress were asking questions, and choose to remain silent.