On Thursday afternoon, House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) led a seventh hearing on the IRS’ so-called “systematic delay and scrutiny” of Tea Party 501(c)(4) applications between 2010 and 2012.
During his opening remarks, Issa emphasized the significance of not jumping to conclusions without valid evidence.
Issa, however, has spent the past two months doing just that.
In an op-ed published by USA Today on Wednesday, Issa accused the Obama administration and “their allies in Congress and the news media” of trying to “push the scandal as far away from their own backyard as possible.” This comes a month after he accused the Obama administration of having played a direct role in the targeting and “cover-up.”
The chairman promised that Thursday’s hearing — featuring testimony from IRS Inspector General J. Russell George, Chief Counsel Michael McCarthy, revenue agent Elizabeth Hofacre, and retired tax law specialist Carter Hull — would finally reveal the truth behind the supposed scandal.
Carter Hull’s testimony was expected to support Issa’s claim that Washington played a role in the delayed tax-exemption status confirmations of numerous Tea Party organizations.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Hull had originally had told investigators that although his judgment about applications is normally enough to approve or deny an applicant’s tax-exempt status, in April 2010 he was ordered by a supervisor to pay “extra attention” to some Tea Party applications as a “trial run for how the agency might handle such cases going forward.” This new process required that Hull send the applications through Washington IRS senior official Lois Lerner’s and IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins’ offices for additional scrutiny and determination.
After Hull sent the applications, the process stalled until Hull met with Wilkins’ staff and Lerner’s senior advisor in August 2011.
The process described by Hull shows a system that effectively sent applications through an office that could ensure that a Democratic appointee and his staff could act as a filter for the conservative organizations’ applications.
At Thursday’s hearing, Hull testified that he found this new process “unusual” and that in his over-40-year career, he had never experienced anything like it. However, when pressed to answer if had ever received direct orders from Washington IRS officials, or had knowledge of White House involvement or political motivation on behalf of any IRS or White House official, he acknowledged that this was not the case. Hull testified that he never received direct orders from Washington IRS officials, and never had any knowledge of White House involvement or political motivation on behalf of any officials.
When House Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) — the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee — asked Cincinnati IRS revenue agent Elizabeth Hofacre if she had any knowledge of Cincinnati IRS officials’ political motives or bias, Hofacre testified that she did not.
Republicans on the committee took turns pressing Hofacre for more information about low-ranking IRS officials and their potential political motivations, but Hofacre said nothing to support the claim there was unequal treatment of conservative groups and progressive groups. Moreover, not a single Tea Party organization was denied tax-exempt status; the only 501(c)(4) applicant whose request for tax-exempt status was recently denied was progressive group, the Maine chapter of Emerge America.
During the hearing, a slideshow was used to show that several terms were used to differentiate between social welfare organizations. Rather than showing only terms associated with conservative groups, the slideshow also demonstrated that progressive groups were also “targeted,” further dispelling Issa’s claim that “Washington made a catastrophic mistake [with Tea Party applications].”
When Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George was called to testify, he confirmed that the word “progressive” was, in fact, on a list of criteria for extra scrutiny of tax exemptions.
The hearing provided absolutely no evidence that the White House had ordered the approval-disapproval delays for either conservative or progressive groups.
Although Issa had insisted that this seventh hearing would finally expose the dirty truth – and a White House cover-up – he found himself backtracking and saying that he never accused the White House of having played a role in the scandal, but rather Washington as a whole.
“We now see it today leading to Washington,” Issa stated. “Although I expect the right to immediately say it leads to the White House, I’m always shocked when the ranking member [Cummings] seems to want to say, like a little boy whose hand has been caught in a cookie jar, ‘What hand? What cookie?’ I’ve never said it leads to the White House.”
Those last remarks created a bit of a stir and prompted Issa to apologize to Cummings. Cummings accepted the apology.
It was Cummings, after all, who had better predicted how this seventh hearing would go. Cummings maintained that the White House never had anything to do with the IRS targeting conservative groups – something that both Hull and Hofacre continuously reaffirmed – and called Issa’s behavior insulting to the president.
“This is unsubstantiated nonsense. It undermines the committee’s integrity, and it destroys the committee’s credibility. The chairman certainly did not withhold judgment – he rushed to it with no evidence whatsoever,” Cummings said.
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