New York Times
WASHINGTON — Steven T. Miller, the departing Internal Revenue Service chief, took responsibility Tuesday for planting a question May 10 at a closed-door meeting with tax lawyers that prompted a top IRS official to disclose that the agency had targeted conservative groups, an awkward move that prompted the inquiries now moving ahead on Capitol Hill.
Miller, testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, said top IRS officials knew a Treasury inspector general audit was pending that would accuse the agency of misconduct in the special scrutiny of Tea Party and other conservative groups.
"We thought we'd get out an apology," Miller said. "Obviously, the entire thing was an incredibly bad idea."
The story burst into the public earlier this month when a question at an American Bar Association meeting prompted Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS' division on tax-exempt organizations, to concede misconduct and apologize to conservative groups.
The slow, sloppy rollout of the IRS' response to the controversy set the tone for recent weeks, in which shifting accounts of the IRS efforts and the administration's response has fueled a swirl of scandal. After the apology leaked, the IRS was forced to scramble to issue a more formal response and organize a news conference call during which even more questions were raised.
On Friday, Miller told the House Ways and Means Committee that the question at the bar meeting was planted by the agency. On Tuesday, he took responsibility for that decision as a maneuver to pre-empt the release of the audit by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.
"The report was coming," Miller said. "We knew that."
The Finance Committee hearing was expected to showcase the first public testimony of Douglas H. Shulman, an IRS commissioner appointed during the Bush administration who led the agency during the targeting efforts.
But early in the hearing, Shulman shed no new light on the controversy, saying he was not aware of it until May 2012. He also did not further Republican claims that the political targeting must have been known by Obama administration officials in 2012, during the presidential campaign.
Shulman said he was "dismayed" and "saddened" to read the inspector general's report. But he denied misleading Congress last year when he repeatedly said that there was no such targeting. He left the IRS in November.
"The full set of facts around these circumstances came out last week" with the inspector general's audit, he said.
That inspector general, J. Russell George, was also at the hearing, and he stood by his conclusion that the targeting was wrong but not motivated by political bias. However, he said his office was not done with the issue. A report will soon be released on the intervention of tax-exempt organizations in electoral politics, he said. If another look at political targeting is warranted, he will do that.
"Suffice it to say this matter is not over, as far as we are concerned," he said.