May 23, 2013

IRS official takes Fifth; no evidence senior managers involved

The boss of tax workers who improperly screened conservative groups says she did nothing wrong.

By JOSEPH TANFANI, RICHARD SIMON and MELANIE MASON Tribune Washington Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

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IRS official Lois Lerner is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee hearing to investigate the extra scrutiny IRS gave to tea party and other conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status.

The Associated Press

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House Oversight and Government Reform Committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., gestures as he speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 22, 2013, during the committee's hearing to investigate the extra scrutiny IRS gave to Tea Party and other conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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Also testifying Wednesday was the first Obama administration official, Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal S. Wolin. He said he learned that an inspector general's audit was under way in 2012, but did not receive any details from J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration. "I told him that he should follow the facts where they lead. I told him that our job is to stay out of the way and let him do his work," Wolin said.

The oversight committee staff has begun questioning IRS officials who were directly involved with supervising screeners of applications for tax-exempt status. One of those officials, Holly Paz, said she first uncovered the improper screening in June 2011. She said the employees in Cincinnati didn't realize that using terms such as "tea party" to single out applications crossed the line.

"They were not even aware of, you know, politics," she said, according to oversight committee staff. "Being outside of Washington, it was not something that they followed or had interest in."

Many of the groups were sent letters with intrusive requests for information, such as lists of donors and details of their conversations at their events. Paz told the staff that no IRS managers looked at those letters before they went out, a practice that has since been changed.

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