(CNSNews.com) – Former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Douglas Shulman said he believes he did not have any conversations with the White House about his agency’s targeting of conservative groups that had applied for tax-exemption status.
After the hearing’s star witness Lois Lerner refused to testify today by pleading the Fifth Amendment, members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform trained their focus on Shulman, who visited the White House at least 118 times during his tenure at the IRS.
“118 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’s wonderful, we’re not targeting conservative groups,’” Rep. Jim Jordan said (R-Ohio). “This is unbelievable.”
“Are you sure you didn’t talk to anyone at the White House about this issue, Mr. Shulman?” Jordan said.
“I am absolutely sure I did not talk to anyone,” Shulman said.
“118 visits, it didn’t come up in a 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?” Jordan repeated.
“Not to my memory and it wouldn’t be appropriate,” Shulman said. “So I certainly believe I did not have any conversations.”
Shulman also came under fire for failing to notify Congress that the IRS was targeting conservative groups.
Shulman said he first learned of the practice in May 2012, but never alerted Congress even though he had testified on March 22, 2012 that there was “absolutely no targeting,” going on. Shulman remained IRS commissioner until November 2012.
On Wednesday, Shulman said it was “standard procedure” to not alert Congress and let the Inspector General handle it.
“My standard procedure as head of the IRS is, when I knew something that sounded of concern—as the chairman called ‘smoke’—and I didn’t have all the facts, I didn’t know what was on the list, exactly how it was used, were there liberal groups as well as conservative groups?” Shulman said. “I didn’t have the facts. And it was in the hands of the IG, the IG would do a thorough review of the matter and when he had all of the facts would report that to the IRS, to the Treasury and to the Congress.”
“So at that point, I didn’t have anything concrete, I didn’t have a full set of facts to come back to the Congress or the committee with,” he said.
“You act as if something was a paramount concern to the Congress, paramount concern to the chairman of the top investigative committee in the Congress, and you find out information and you know it was a concern, did you get upset when you heard from Mr. Miller?” Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) asked.
“I felt comfort that the IG was going to look into it,” Shulman said.
The IRS has come under a firestorm since Lerner apologized for singling out conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status on May 10, ahead of the public release of an Inspector General report that detailed the practice.
The IG audit, released on May 14, confirmed that groups with names including “Tea Party,” “Patriots” or “9/12 Project” were put on a separate “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) list, subjected to lengthy personal questionnaires during the 2010 and 2012 elections.
That report, however, though scheduled for release in September 2012—just months before the 2012 presidential election—was delayed, it was revealed during Wednesday’s hearing.
Emails between oversight committee staff and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) were presented, showing that the Inspector General delayed reporting its findings to Congress.
Committee staff asked TIGTA repeatedly beginning in September 2012 about their report, asking, “…You mentioned your report would be ready in September. Any update for us?”
TIGTA repeatedly said the work was ongoing. One response even blamed a final exam for its delay.
“Sorry for the delayed response,” an email from TIGTA read on Dec. 20, 2012. “I was studying for a final . . . We will be able to offer a substantive briefing, i.e., the facts, findings, recommendations, and outcomes by March.”
The committee continued to ask for a briefing with TIGTA about the audit. But when Lerner apologized for targeting conservatives on May 10, the committee felt blindsided.
“The fact that this information is now public and we have not been briefed despite my repeated requests over so many months is completely unacceptable,” committee staff said.
“The IRS issued a press statement without our knowledge, consent, or even advance notice,” TIGTA said.
What’s next for the investigation could include a special prosecutor, said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.). "If this committee is prevented by obstruction or by refusal to answer the questions that we need to get to the bottom of this, you will leave us no alternative but to ask for an appointment of a special prosecutor, or appointment of a special committee, to get to the bottom of this," Lynch said.
“The power to tax is the power to destroy,” said Chairman Darryl Issa (R-Calif.). “The power to grant tax status is, in fact, an enhancement of the rights and liberties of our speech.”
“That is what is at stake here,” he said. “And it wouldn’t matter one bit if a different group was targeted.”
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