House committee to question IRS officials on targeting

House committee to question IRS officials on targeting
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POSTED: Friday, May 17, 2013 - 10:00am

UPDATED: Friday, May 17, 2013 - 10:04am

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee will take their turn Friday questioning Internal Revenue Service officials over the targeting of conservative groups by the agency.

"It seems as if there's a culture of discrimination at the IRS, and I want to get to the bottom of it," committee Chairman Dave Camp told CNN in an exclusive interview Thursday. "It appears that people with a certain type of political view were targeted, while others with more progressive or liberal views were left alone."

"We're going to need to find out to what extent others knew, and why really this whole policy was implemented," the Michigan congressman said.

Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner forced to resign over the scandal, will testify, as will J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

The commissioner of the IRS' Tax Exempt & Government Entities Division also announced his retirement Thursday.

Joseph Grant will leave in June, according to an internal IRS memo provided to CNN.

Miller is also scheduled to exit then.

According to a report by the agency's inspector general released Tuesday, the IRS used faulty policy to determine whether applicants for tax-exempt status were engaged in political activities, which would disqualify them.

The policy went into effect in early 2010, the report said, and "used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention."

The report stated that IRS officials did not consult anyone beyond the agency about the development of the screening criteria.

On Thursday, Camp called the report "disappointing."

"We're seeing reported in the press that other individuals that weren't applying for tax-exempt status were brought into the IRS and questioned about views that were unrelated to their tax return," he said. "So I think this may be larger."

The congressman added he's "very suspicious" that the targeting operation was politically motivated.

"We don't have the information to back (that suspicion) up," he said. "That's why we're going to need to conduct this hearing and others until we get to the bottom of it. And we're not going to stop until we know all the facts."

Camp said that President Barack Obama -- who has called the agency's misconduct "inexcusable" -- needs to take responsibility for IRS behavior.

"Ultimately, the president is responsible for the administration," Camp said. "And the IRS is part of the administration."

But Camp said the hearing isn't about partisan bickering.

Ranking Democratic member Sander Levin is on board with the hearing, too, he said.

"This isn't a partisan hearing," Camp said.

Levin, however, told CNN he's "always concerned these days that partisanship will take over."

"This should be an inquiry. We set it on a bipartisan path," Levin said. "I hope it stays that way."

The scandal has, however, already leaked into the debate over House Republican efforts to repeal Obama's health care reform law.

The IRS official in charge of that agency's implementation of the program, Sarah Hall Ingram, once headed the unit under scrutiny in the scandal.

Camp said he does not yet know if the scandal rises to the level of criminal conduct.

"But clearly this is serious," he said. "I think the penalties should be serious. I think Infringing on people's constitutional rights is not something we should look (at) as a trifling matter."

Camp promised more hearings to follow, partly to hear from former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman, who was running the agency when the targeting program went into effect.

Shulman, who was at the helm of the agency during most of the period in question, will testify before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, a House GOP aide told CNN.

Shulman, who is no longer in the government, agreed to attend voluntarily.

Another official at the heart of the scandal, Lois Lerner, has told the committee through an attorney that she is in Montreal, and it's unclear if she can make the hearing.

Lerner is the director for exempt organizations under Grant.

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