A top Democrat in the House of Representatives pressed the Treasury Department Inspector General responsible for the report that revealed the Internal Revenue Service had inappropriately scrutinized conservative political groups on whether the report deliberately left out evidence that some liberal groups had also been targeted during a hearing Thursday.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee – one of several panels looking into the IRS controversy – has been sparring with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the committee chairman over the findings of the investigation. Cummings claimed Russell George, the inspector general, may have purposefully left out keywords such as "progressive" that had been put on an IRS watch list alongside "tea party," "9/12" and "patriot," all of which were included in the report.
George used his opening statement to push back against the criticism and said Lois Lerner, an IRS official embroiled in the scandal, was to blame for the misconception that his report was biased.
"It has been asserted that [the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA)] concluded that the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative organizations; however, that narrative is based upon Ms. Lerner's statements, not on TIGTA's conclusions," George said. "It is imperative for me to emphasize that our audit report never labeled groups as 'conservative' or 'liberal.'"
In response to Cummings' request for details of how the report's information was collected, George said he's still working out what can be freely released and what is sensitive information.
"We are still in the process of discussing this," he said. "But if I'm going to err, sir, it's going to be on the side protecting confidential taxpayer information and not on some willy-nilly decision by some unnamed, career IRS employee."
Cummings responded, "I understand your term 'willy-nilly' but these are not willy-nilly people as I understand it."
The IRS controversy is rife with politics, because even though members of both parties condemned the targeting, Republicans feel it serves as evidence that the Obama administration is inappropriately using the IRS to go after political enemies.
The scrutiny occurred in the two years leading up to the 2012 presidential election. But so far, there's been no evidence anyone in the White House was aware of what had occurred.
Lawmakers have pledged to continue investigating the matter.