WASHINGTON, July 18 (UPI) -- Top members of a U.S. congressional committee investigating IRS scrutiny of political groups clashed Thursday on the White House's role, if any, in the matter.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said testimony at a hearing Thursday would prove Washington officials "made a catastrophic mistake" in directing IRS field agents in Cincinnati to give extra scrutiny to Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status, The Hill reported.
Issa said it was "absurd" to blame the controversy on staffers in Cincinnati, the report said.
Issa said testimony by IRS staffer Elizabeth Hofacre and tax-law specialist Carter Hull would show Washington officials were involved in targeting Tea Party groups, The Hill said.
"Washington made a catastrophic mistake" in dealing with Tea Party applications, he said.
Issa -- who said in May the IRS case demonstrated "a targeting of the president's political enemies -- said in his opening statement Thursday his previous references to Washington did not mean the White House was behind the controversial IRS actions, The Hill reported.
"It is important that we understand that words matter, that nuances matter," he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the committee, noted in his opening statement Issa had written Thursday in a USA Today op-ed that it was too soon to judge whether the White House targeted Tea Party applicants.
"The chairman certainly did not withhold judgment -- he rushed to it with no evidence whatsoever," Cummings said. "The responsible answer is that we have no evidence at all to back up that claim."