The chief counsel’s office for the Internal Revenue Service, headed by a political appointee of President Obama, helped develop the agency’s problematic guidelines for reviewing “tea party” cases, according to a top IRS attorney. In interviews with congressional investigators, IRS lawyer Carter Hull said his superiors told him that the chief counsel’s office, led by William Wilkins, would need to review some of the first applications the agency screened for additional scrutiny because of potential political activity. Previous accounts from IRS employees had shown that Washington IRS officials were involved in the controversy, but Hull’s comments represent the closest connection to the White House to date. According to a partial transcript released by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and House Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the chief counsel’s office also discussed using a template letter to ask questions about the groups’ activities, despite Hull’s warning that such a boilerplate approach would be impractical.
IRS inspector general Russell George released a report in May that said the agency had inappropriately targeted groups based on ideology rather than looking for politically neutral signs of campaign activity. He also found that the IRS went too far in its questioning of applicants, asking them for everything from resumes to names of donors or membership lists, which experts say the IRS cannot legally do. Democratic and Republican lawmakers in recent months have offered competing narratives about who was to blame for the IRS’s actions. GOP lawmakers have suggested that Washington IRS officials and even the White House had a hand in the controversy, while Democrats have said the issue started with mid-level employees in the agency’s tax-exemption office in Cincinnati. While talking about the controversy in May, White House press secretary Jay Carney referred to “the apparent conduct by our IRS officials in Cincinnati” and said “line IRS employees in Cincinnati improperly scrutinized 501 (C)(4) organizations by using words like ‘tea party,’ in quotes, and ‘patriot.’”
The problem with Democrats', er, "competing narrative" is that it's both false and transparently political -- which explains why they've resorted to attacking the independent investigator himself. Committee Democrats will spend much of their time tomorrow treating the Inspector General as a hostile witness; now Republicans have telegraphed where their line of inquiry is headed. Expect lots of questions for Mr. Hull regarding the IRS chief counsel's office, and mentions of Obama appointee William Wilkins. Agency higher-ups and their allies in Congress and at the White House have attempted to scapegoat lower-level "line employees" for conceiving of and executing the pattern wrongful abuse. Some of those employees will push back in public for the first time tomorrow morning, confirming what they've confided in private interviews: They were following orders, and DC was heavily involved in the process. Now we know that at least some of those orders emanated from the very top of the IRS food chain, including an influential office run by a man installed by President Obama.