Democrat raises prospect of special prosecutor for IRS

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This is a Reblogged from The Washington Times

Posted by Tom Howell Jr

A Democrat on the House’s investigative committee raised the specter of a special prosecutor on Wednesday to investigate political targeting of conservative groups at the IRS from 2010 to 2012.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, Massachusetts Democrat, warned IRS and Treasury Department witnesses before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform not to stonewall congressional efforts to get to the bottom of the scandal.

SEE RELATED: Treasury official washes hands of IRS’ political targeting

“We know where that will lead, it will lead to a special prosecutor. … There will be hell to pay if that’s the route that we choose to go down,” he said.

The Democrat’s reference to a special prosecutor was noteworthy, since the most vocal criticism for the IRS has come from GOP ranks in recent weeks.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican, said Wednesday that the IRS intentionally misled Congress by failing to sound the alarm over political targeting in its tax-exempt division from 2010 to 2012.

He said his committee recently interviewed Holly Paz, a senior IRS official, who said the agency completed an internal review in early 2012 that concluded the same thing that an inspector general’s report publicly revealed only this month.

Everyone with knowledge of inappropriate criteria used to single out tea party and conservative groups for extra scrutiny “could have and should been a whistle-blower,” Mr. Issa said.

He also accused the Obama administration of placing a “higher priority on deniability than addressing blatant wrongdoing.”

SEE RELATED: Key IRS official speaks at House hearing — but not for long

Congress was misled,” he said. “The American people were misled.”

Attendees sat shoulder to shoulder in the packed hearing room on Wednesday to see what high-ranking IRS officials have to say — if anything at all — about the scandal, which unfolded with a fumbled apology earlier this month at an event before the American Bar Association.

Lois Lerner, director of tax-exempt organizations for the IRS, made the apology but has indicated she will invoke her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent during the oversight hearing.

Ms. Lerner is considered a key witness because in July 2011 she directed specialists in the Cincinnati field office to broaden their criteria beyond partisan terms such as “tea party,” “patriot” and “9/12,” according to an audit by the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration.

Higher-ranking officials such as former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, a Bush appointee, and acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who was forced to resigned, have distanced themselves from the scandal in testimony before other House and Senate committees.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, ranking Democrat on the panel, also on Wednesday condemned the IRS‘ political targeting as unacceptable but said it likely was the result of “gross incompetence and mismanagement” in determining which organizations should qualify for tax-exempt status.

He also questioned changes in the rules that guide political groups with tax-exempt status under 501(c)(4).

He and other lawmakers want to know how the law shifted from banning political activity among these “social welfare” groups to an IRS rule that simply limits its political involvement.

Mr. Cummings said it is time to return to the original standard.

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