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Former head of IRS denies political motives in dealing with Tea Party

May 17, 2013 at 6:20 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, May 17 (UPI) -- U.S. Treasury Department officials were told in June 2012 about Internal Revenue Service scrutiny of political groups, the department's inspector general said.

J. Russell George, inspector general for tax administration, testified at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Friday he told senior department officials last June he was auditing IRS screening of organizations applying for tax exemptions. It is the first public acknowledgement Obama administration officials knew of the screenings prior to the November election, The New York Times said.

George said he notified the Treasury Department's general counsel of the audit June 4, and then notified Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, as part of a routine briefing -- but did not tell the officials he had concluded the targeting of conservative applicants was improper, the Times said.

Asked whether he uncovered evidence the scrutiny of conservatives was politically motivated, George said he did not.

Steven Miller, ousted this week as acting head of the IRS, denied in testimony Friday the IRS targeted the Tea Party for political reasons but he acknowledged IRS workers had made "mistakes" and delivered "horrible customer service."

"Whether it was politically motivated is a very different question," he said.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew requested Miller's resignation Wednesday.

"I do not believe that partisanship motivated the people who engaged in the practices described in the treasury inspector general's report," Miller said. "I think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection. The listing described in the report, while intolerable, was a mistake and not an act of partisanship."

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said the IRS scandal "appears to be just the latest example of a culture of cover-ups and political intimidation in this administration."

He said Miller's resignation, the retirement of Joseph Grant, head of the IRS's tax-exempt division and other personnel changes will not solve the problem at the IRS, which he said has become "too large, too powerful, too intrusive and too abusive."

"Trimming a few branches will not solve the problem when the roots of the tree have gone rotten," Camp said.

Further congressional hearings on the IRS matter are scheduled for next week.

Miller confirmed an IRS apology for the targeting -- delivered last week by Lori Lerner, head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups -- came in response to a question Lerner arranged for someone to ask at a public forum.

Topics: Barack Obama
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