Political Storm Over IRS Targeting Shifts to Congress

On Friday the first in a series of investigative hearings will open in Congress on the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups for the allerged extra tax scrutiny.

The political storm over the scandal with extra tax scrutiny shifts to Capitol Hill. Photo: The White House/Flickr

Lawmakers from both parties will grill the outgoing acting head of the agency, Steven Miller, and the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration, J. Russell George, about the scandal that is predicted to affect President Barack Obama’s second-term agenda.

IRS head was forced to resign on Wednesday, and the U.S. president has since appeared in public twice to voice his disapproval over the agency’s actions and to offer complex cooperation with three congressional investigations and a Justice Department probe.

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee would probably press and condemn Miller at the Friday’s hearing as the head of the agency did not disclose the practice of targeting conservative groups after learning about it in 2012, even when he was questioned by Congress.

Republicans, who has already accused the administration of using its powers to target political foes, also are expected to question whether other groups or donors were singled out because of their political views, and whether the White House knew of the practice, Reuters reports.

The hearing is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT).

“There are still far too many unanswered questions and until we know what truly happened, we cannot fully fix what is wrong,” said Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Republican from Michigan.

“The IRS has demonstrated a culture of cover up and has failed time and time again to be completely open and honest with the American people,” Camp added.

George, who investigated the complaints against the agency, released a statement earlier this week, in which he blamed “ineffective management and bureaucratic confusion at the IRS” for the targeting of conservative political groups for extra scrutiny when considering applications for tax-exempt status.

By the way, George also could face questioning from Republicans about why he did not issue warnings about the practice earlier.

Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican member of the Ways and Means panel, said the upcoming hearing will kick off a months-long investigative process.

“Common sense tells me it probably just wasn’t two low-level employees in Cincinnati sitting around strategizing about how to go after the Tea Party,” Nunes told reporters on Thursday.

Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the panel, said he was concerned that Republicans could turn the probe into a partisan witchhunt.

“There is a tendency to politicize. That would be a terrible mistake,” Levin told reporters. “There are people who conjecture, who are trying to make connections. If there is no basis for it, that is also a mistake.”

The surfaced scandal has put President Obama on the defensive at a time when he is negotiating with Republican party on a budget deal and trying to push a comprehensive immigration reform bill through Congress.

“Two other committees, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, also will hold IRS hearings next week,” Reuters reports.

“Between those investigations I think we’re going to be able to figure out exactly what happened, who was involved, what went wrong, and we’re going to be able to implement steps to fix it,” Obama said at a Rose Garden news conference on Thursday.

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