New hearings on the so-called IRS scandal resembled a high-school cafeteria fight Thursday, when House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa called Rep. Elijah Cummings "a little boy," after Cummings accused Issa of contriving "unsubstantial nonsense" about the scandal's roots in a recent op-ed.
In the op-ed, Issa refused to rule out Washington's involvement in the Cincinnati IRS's unequal scrutiny of Tea Party-related groups applying for tax-exempt status. "As our investigation is ongoing," he writes, "the responsible answer is that judgment should be withheld until all relevant witnesses are interviewed and all documents reviewed." This is despite the fact that the manager responsible for the IRS team in question has said there was no such influence.
Issa's claims are contradicted again by recently released documents showing that the Cincinnati IRS targeted progressive groups as well as conservative ones.
Nonetheless, the chairman brought forward two more witness for a seventh hearing Wednesday: Elizabeth Hofacre, a 14-year employee of the Cincinnati IRS screening office in question and Carter Hull, a staffer for IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C. Hofacre said she was unaware of political bias among her colleagues in Cincinnati and that she never received direction from anyone at the White House.
"Republicans were deeply disappointed to discover that she must have left her smoking gun at home," msnbc's Lawrence O'Donnell said Thursday in his Rewrite segment.
Issa seemed to suggest there was greater interest in Carter Hull, who took his concerns about the Cincinnati IRS's "be on the lookout" lists to the chief counsel of the IRS in Washington, a White House appointee. As David Weigel over at Slate notes, however, this information is two months old; the Inspector General's original report had the same information. Issa was "repacking a revelation that didn't get a ton of attention in May because it seemed like a weak connection to the White House," Weigel said.
To clarify the issue further, Rep. Tammy Duckworth asked Hull, "Do you have any reason to believe that the decision to have the IRS chief counsel's office review Tea Party cases was motivated by political bias?"
"No," said Hull. "I do not."
Some Democrats, like Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, took the time with these witnesses to dig a bit deeper on the issue of 501(c)(4)s. Maloney asked Hofacre and Hull whether it would make their jobs easier if they were allowed to follow the law as written, which says that tax-exempt social welfare organizations must be operated "exclusively" for the promotion of social welfare. Both witnesses said it would.
But O'Donnell had to ask, "What are the chances of the Republican House of Representatives agreeing on a way to make life easier at the IRS?"