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May 17, 2013

Former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Acting Commissioner Steven Miller, who only took over in November and resigned this week at President Barack Obama’s behest, will testify before the House Ways and Means Committee Friday on his role in targeting Tea Party and conservative groups for audit or excessive review. 

Miller was the first senior IRS official to be disciplined in the scandal, though the problems began before he took over the IRS, and other senior officials were aware of the problem and appear to have misled Congress.

Though Miller’s resignation was reported as a decisive step by the president, his term had been due to expire in early June. Joseph Grant, had been appointed only several days before as Acting Commissioner of the IRS’s tax exempt and government entities division, has also resigned.

Other current and former IRS and Treasury officials have yet to be held accountable, including Lois Lerner, who first acknowledged the scandal on May 10, and former IRS Douglas Shulman, who told Congress in 2012 that Tea Party groups were not being targeted.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced earlier this week that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would begin a criminal investigation of the IRS. Congressional Republicans have indicated that they will not be satisfied with a DOJ probe or the internal Treasury investigation released earlier this week, but will seek answers independently as they attempt to uncover who was responsible for the abuse and how widespread it has become. There are suspicions that the problem extends beyond the IRS alone and includes other federal agencies.

While some Democrats have acknowledged the seriousness of the scandal, and President Barack Obama has called the conduct “outrageous,” Democratic leaders have attempted to turn the scandal into an argument for overturning the Citizens United case, which enabled political spending by tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations.

Many senior Democrats, in fact, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had already asked the IRS to investigate such groups, possibly prompting or contributing to the abuse that eventually emerged at the agency.

Update 11:10 a.m. EDT: Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) chides Miller for splitting hairs on the definition of “targeting.” He nails Miller with a tough question: why was the American Bar Association (ABA) informed of the IRS abuses before Congress? Miller cannot explain–nor can he explain why the IRS, which evidently planted the question and answer at the May 10 ABA meeting, chose not to do more to inform Congress.

Update 10:41 a.m. EDT: The hearing is in recess for 15 minutes.

Update 10:30 a.m. EDT: Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) asks Miller a question that is on the minds of many as new revelations emerge: why did he promote Sarah Hall Ingraham, who was at the IRS division in question when the abuses occurred, to lead the IRS division responsible for administering the agency’s new Obamacare duties? She’s an outstanding public servant, says Miller.

Update 10:22 a.m. EDT: Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) continues the Democrats’ obfuscation by going through a history of money in politics back to Buckley v. Valeo (1976).

Update 10:16 a.m. EDT: Under questioning from Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Miller says that he had no contact about these issues with the White House or the Obama campaign or activist organizations, but that he did discuss them with the Treasury and may have had some contact with the Pro Publica organization after the allegations of leaks first emerged.

If you did nothing wrong, Nunes asks Miller, why resign? Miller provides a “buck stops here” answer. (It’s both a dodge and an admirable answer, since that ethic is sadly missing elsewhere in Washington today.)

Update 10:14 a.m. EDT: McDermott tries going after Republicans on Obamacare, getting Miller to confirm that the IRS cannot obtain the personal health records of patients under Obamacare. Unfortunately for both, that is precisely what a new lawsuit alleges happened to sixty million Americans.

Update 10:10 a.m. EDT:  Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) blames Congress and Citizens United for the problem, ignoring the fact that only conservative groups and not left-wing groups were targeted.

Update 10:07 a.m. EDT: Look out. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chair of the House Budget Committee, reads Miller the timeline of his statements to, and correspondence with, Congress, noting when he became aware of the IRS’s abuses. He notes that Miller’s obligation is to tell “the whole truth” and not to omit or cover up any known facts. “How can we not conclude that you misled this committee?”

Miller says that he did not, arguing that the targeting or harassment “implies political motivation.” Ryan goes back to the documents–Mille was specifically asked what he was “aware of.” Miller says his understanding was not about the unfair treatment but about the treatment of the complaints from the groups involved.

Again, Ryan goes back to the timeline, noting that Miller had been briefed already by the time he responded to the committee that conservative groups were being targeted–“You knew that, but you did not mention that to this committee.” Miller maintains that he answered truthfully. (It is an increasingly unconvincing response.)

Update 9:58 a.m. EDT: Rep. Charles Rangel, a tax cheat himself, turns the Democrats’ performance on the committee into a true theater of the absurd by pleading Miller’s case and insisting on hearing his story of personal persecution. A bit of projection, apparently, from Mr. Rangel, who provokes laughter by bungling the name of the Democrats’ most-hated-case, Citizens United.

Update 9:54 a.m. EDT: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-NY) asks Miller about a woman in his district–apparently Catherine Engelbrecht, whose case has been extensively documented by Breitbart News–who was not only targeted by the IRS but other agencies. He closes by asking Miller whether more information has been leaked; Miller says he would be “shocked” if it had. Brady says that the committee will likely have to hear about it through the press first.

Update 9:51 a.m. EDT: Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) tries a bit of too-clever political spin, saying that both sides condemn political targeting by the IRS, and suggesting that it also happened under the “previous administration,” i.e. the Bush administration, because it happened under Shulman. There is no record of such targeting under Bush, and no record of left-wing groups being targeted under Shulman either under Bush or Obama.

Update 9:43 a.m. EDT: Rep. Boustany (R-LA) plays a video of Shulman’s testimony to Congress from 2012 in which he denied that the IRS was targeting Tea Party groups. He asks Miller whether Boustany was telling the truth. Miller says that Shulman was “incorrect” and that the Tea Party was not “targeted” as such but was the victim of a process of centralization as the number of groups applying for tax exempt status grew.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has already debunked that argument (via Hot Air), showing that the IRS scrutiny of Tea Party groups began before the IRS could have noticed an increase in applications for tax exemption.

Update 9:40 a.m. EDT: Levin tries shifting blame, asking Miller who was in charge of the IRS when the abuses began (“Shulman”) and who appointed Shulman to his post (“Mr. Bush”). So for Democrats, the strategy remains: it’s Bush’s fault, notwithstanding that the abuses occurred entirely on President Barack Obama’s watch.

Update 9:37 a.m. EDT: Camp asks George about the leak of a conservative organization’s confidential documents by the IRS to the progressive media organization Pro Publica; George says an investigation is not currently ongoing.

Update 9:35 a.m. EDT: Camp closes his questions to Miller sharply, asking him whether he ever informed Congress about IRS abuses when he became aware of them. When you have an obligation to tell the truth, Camp asks him, and you fail, “what is that called?” Miller ducks: “I always answer questions truthfully, Mr. Camp.” In other words, he denies lying to Congress.

Update 9:30 a.m. EDT: Camp’s initial questions are about what Miller knew and when he knew it–and to whom he reported it. Miller says that he first learned about some abuses in the press, and cannot remember exact dates. Interestingly, despite his apparent resignation earlier this week, Miller is still Acting Commissioner of the IRS.

Update 9:25 a.m. EDT: Following a hard-hitting, straightforward opening statement by the Inspector General, Miller apologizes on behalf of the IRS for the mistakes that were made “and the poor service that was provided.” He says that the motivations for the IRS’s conduct were not political but that “foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient.”

Update 9:15 a.m. EDT: The opening statements of both Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Ranking Member Sander Levin (R-MI) expressed outrage that the committee had been misled. Levin cautioned the committee against using the hearing as a “bootstrap” to re-fight the 2012 elections or prepare for the 2014 elections. Camp swore in the witnesses–including Miller and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George–saying that it was not customary to do so, but that the IRS had misled the committee in the past.