(CNSNews.com) – Representative Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), a former federal prosecutor, picked apart the case of Democrats and the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) defense of what happened in the scandal regarding the targeting of Tea Party groups that were applying for tax-exemption status during two election periods in 2010 and 2012.
At a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 18, Gowdy called out suspended IRS Exempt Organizations head Lois Lerner, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, and others who said the entire matter was perpetrated by two agents in the IRS’s Cincinnati office.
“Mr. Carney’s willingness to say ‘I don’t know’ is exceeded perhaps only by his willingness to acknowledge that he appreciates the question,” Gowdy joked, referring to a repetitive line from the press secretary in responding to reporters’ questions. “But he didn’t say ‘I don’t know.’ He advanced the narrative that two rogue agents were responsible for this insidious discriminatory practice. And then we had colleagues that said this matter was closed, months ago, Mr. Chairman, the matter was closed.”
Recently, several career IRS employees told committee staffers with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Tea Party cases were reviewed by the office of IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins in Washington.
“Then, the new iteration of the defense is, well, at least the White House isn’t directly involved, as if that is the new standard for propriety in this town,” Gowdy added. “At least the White House directly didn’t know about it. So that’s our defense.”
“And then the defense, Mr. Chairman, morphed into this, the most novel of all defenses, that the IRS is too poorly managed to be capable of concocting a scheme this sophisticated,” said Gowdy. “That was the defense, that my client is too dumb to have committed this crime.”
Both the House Oversight Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee are investigating the IRS targeting of conservative and Tea Party organizations. According to a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report, the IRS exempt organizations (EO) unit flagged organizations with the term “tea party,” “patriot,” or “9/12” that applied for tax exempt status for its “Be On the Look Out” or BOLO list. The FBI is also looking into the matter.
In late June, after the Associated Press first reported on an internal IRS document that said the terms “Israel,” “Progressive” and “Occupy” were all targeted, acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel told reporters in a conference call, “There was a wide-ranging set of categories and cases that spanned a broad spectrum.” Then, Democratic lawmakers accused Inspector General Russell George of not disclosing that.
George responded that that the audit “did not find evidence that the IRS used the ‘Progressives’ identifier as selection criteria for potential political cases between May 2010 and May 2012 and said, in total, 30 percent of the organizations we identified with the words ‘progress’ or ‘progressive’ in their names were processed as potential political cases. … In comparison, our audit found that 100 percent of the tax-exempt applications with Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in their names were processed as potential political cases during the timeframe of our audit.”
Gowdy addressed how that narrative also collapsed.
“Then, Mr. Chairman, we moved to the most recent defense, which is that, ‘no, we didn’t just improperly target conservative groups, we improperly targeted all groups,’” Gowdy said. “So, while we may be guilty of improper conduct, we’re not guilty of discrimination because we did it against people at both ends of the political spectrum. So that’s our defense.”
Gowdy was a federal prosecutor for six years in South Carolina. He talked about the recent attacks from Democratic lawmakers critical of the investigation.
“Now, to see the inspector general attacked,” he said. “Mr. Chairman, there was an axiom in court that if you had the facts, pound the facts. If you had the law, pound the law. If you didn’t have either one, pound the judge. What’s been said about Mr. George [the inspector general] is reprehensible and I can’t wait until he has the opportunity to defend himself.”
Gowdy later noted that the career IRS employees who testified before the committee that day were veterans. Carter Hull, the retired IRS tax law specialist, served in the Vietnam war. Elizabeth Hofacre, who worked in the IRS Exempt Organizations unit, served in the U.S. Army from 1985 to 1991.
He juxtaposed their service with Lois Lerner, who invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination after first claiming innocence on May 22, when she was called to testify before the House Oversight Committee.
“Let me tell you what else is reprehensible Mr. Chairman, Lois Lerner sat where those two witnesses sit today several weeks ago,” Gowdy said. “These two witnesses put on a uniform and fought and defended this country and the Constitution so she could hide behind the Constitution, invoke her Fifth Amendment right, but only after she blamed them.”
“She blamed two rogue agents in Ohio,” said Gowdy. “I ought to just be thankful anytime IRS agents don’t invoke the Fifth Amendment. I ought to be glad that anyone is willing to come before a committee in Congress and testify. But to have these two people’s reputation, or whoever she was talking about, besmirched by someone who doesn’t even have the courage to come do what they’re doing.”