IRS chief challenged by Ways and Means committee

Updated

In yet another hearing about the so-called IRS scandal, acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel answered questions from lawmakers on the Ways and Means committee Thursday.

On Monday, Werfel issued a report after investigating whether or not there was intentional wrongdoing by IRS employees who targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny. The report found a certain amount of mismangement but no intentional wrongdoing. Some lawmakers on the Ways and Means committee, however, didn’t buy it.

“A public report–whether it’s intended or not, is a political report,” GOP congressman Ted Griffin told Werfel at Thursday’s hearing. “People are going to seize upon what’s in that report and they’re going to, uh–statements like the one you made, ‘We have not found evidence of intentional wrongdoing on behalf of IRS personnel’–they’re gonna seize on statements like that and they’re gonna say, ‘Aha! See there? No evidence.’”

Werfel insisted that there was, indeed, no evidence of such wrongdoing.

“It’s a different situation if an employee thinks and a manager thinks, ‘This is the right thing to do, this is how I’m supposed to conduct my business.’ And they could be mistaken, and they could be incompetent, and it could be total mismanagement at how they think they are appropriately carrying out their duties,” he said. “What we don’t have evidence of yet is that someone knowingly did something wrong based on political animus and criminal intent.”

Democrats on the committee focused on recently-surfaced documents suggesting that progressive groups applying for tax-exempt status were also targeted for extra scrutiny. In addition to flagging words like “Tea Party and “patriot,” the new report shows the IRS sought terms like “progressive,” “occupy,” and “medical marijuana.”

“There is increasing evidence that the May 14, 2013, audit was fundamentally flawed and that your handling of it has failed to meet the necessary test of objectivity and forthrightness,” wrote top committee Democrat Sander Levin in a letter to Treasury Department Inspector General J. Russell George.

Meanwhile, House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa–who has determinedly pursued evidence of intentional wrongdoing–walked back accusations of the White House’s direct involvement in the “scandal.”

“I’ve never said it came out of the Office of the President or his campaign,” Issa said. “What I’ve said is it comes out of Washington…For years, the president bashed the Tea Party groups. He was very public against these groups. And on his behalf, perhaps not on his request, on his behalf, the IRS executed a delaying tactic against the very groups that he talked about.”

IRS chief challenged by Ways and Means committee

Updated