WASHINGTON, May 15, 2013 — Declaring that IRS commissioners were overly aggressive in targeting certain political groups and that they have apologized, Attorney General Eric Holder stepped into the glare of a congressional hearing and the media headlights.
Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Holder said, “I can assure you and the American people that we will take a dispassionate view of this.” He added, “This will not be about parties, this will not be about ideological persuasions. Anybody who has broken the law will be held accountable.”
The accusation is that the IRS played politics in deciding who to scrutinize, targeting for special attention groups with names that included “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” or “9/12 Project” in their applications for tax-exempt status.
House Speaker John Boehner asks, “Who’s going to jail over this?”
“There are laws in place to prevent this type of abuse. Someone made a conscious decision to harass and to hold up these requests for tax exempt status,” said Boehner. “I think we need to know who they are and whether they violated the law. Clearly someone violated the law.”
“Those (actions) were, I think, as everyone can agree, if not criminal, they were certainly outrageous and unacceptable,” Holder said last Friday. “But we are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations.”
Acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller and the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, J. Russell George, will be the focus of a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Friday.
President Obama has announced that Miller has tendered his resignation, which has been accepted by the President. As an appointee, removing Miller is an easy step, and he failed to inform Congress of the conservative group targeting by IRS employees when he knew of it last year. Whether Miller will be called before Congress now is not known at this writing.
Lois Lerner, head of the IRS division that oversees tax exempt organizations, and Douglas Shulman, former IRS Commissioner, will be present during that hearing.
Three congressional committees are investigating whether the IRS is responsible for singling out conservative parties, namely tea party groups, during the 2012 presidential election and 2010 congressional elections.
“The report’s findings are intolerable and inexcusable,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “The federal government must conduct itself in a way that’s worthy of the public’s trust, and that’s especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test.”
George, who will appear before the Ways and Means Committee, has said that “ineffective management at the IRS” allowed the [alleged criminal] activity to go on for more than 18 months.
Three congressional committees are investigating the IRS for singling out tea party and other conservative groups during the 2010 congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election. But Holder’s announcement would take the matter to another level if investigators were able to prove that laws were broken.
A serious national security leak
AG Holder told Congress Wednesday that a “serious national security leak” was reason enough for the gathering of telephone records at The Associated Press.
The AP records were obtained as part of an investigation to determine who leaked information about U.S. involvement in cyber-attacks on Iran and an al-Qaida plot to place an explosive device aboard a U.S.-bound flight
While standing by the investigation and the process of record collection for the investigation, Holder did the sidestep shuffle, insisting he was not directly involved in it. According to Holder, Deputy Attorney General James Cole made the decision to seek news media phone records.
With both sides of the aisle asking questions, Holder insists that he has “faith” in the persons charged with investigating whether current administration officials leaked that information for the purpose of creating a more favorable election year opinion of President Obama’s national security program.
Recusing himself from the case because “I am a possessor of information eventually leaked,” and in wonderful doublespeak, Holder says he is unable to answer subpoena questions as to why the Justice Department failed to first talk, or negotiate with AP, prior to the broad seizure of records.
“There doesn’t appear to be any acceptance of responsibility for things that have gone wrong,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. said.
Responding to news of the gathering of AP records, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., planned to revive a 2009 media shield bill that protects journalists and their employers from having to reveal information, including the identity of sources that had been promised confidentiality.
The law does contain some exceptions for cases of national security.
“This kind of law would balance national security needs against the public’s right to the free flow of information,” Schumer said in a statement. “At minimum, our bill would have ensured a fairer, more deliberate process in this case.”
The White House threw its support behind the legislation, said a White House official, who was not authorized to speak on the record about the topic and demanded anonymity.
Ed Pagano, Obama’s liaison to the Senate, placed a call Wednesday morning to Schumer’s office to ask him to revive the bill, a move the senator had planned to make.
Obama’s support for the bill signaled an effort by the White House to show action in the face of heated criticism from lawmakers from both parties and news organizations about his commitment to protecting civil liberties and freedom of the press.
White House officials have said they are unable to comment publicly on the incident at the heart of the controversy because the Justice Department’s leak probe essentially amounts to a criminal investigation of administration officials.
Holder on Tuesday defended the move to collect AP phone records in an effort to hunt down the sources of information for a May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bombing plot around the anniversary of the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
The attorney general called the story the result of “a very serious leak, a very grave leak.”
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