A few thoughts on round one of today's House Oversight Committee's IRS hearings:
(1) Right out of the gate, Democrats' top priority was attacking Chairman Issa -- accusing him of overreaching and conducting committee business in an overly partisan manner. Ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings also asserted his desire to "get to the bottom" of the IRS scandal, intoning that he's seeking, "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." But just last month, he called the IRS affair "solved." Rep. Gerry Connolly, a liberal from Virginia, spent his entire question period upbraiding Issa and launching pre-emptive strikes against the Inspector General, who will testify later. He did not ask a single question of the witnesses. Democrats also launched broadsides against Mitch McConnell and Marco Rubio over statements those Senators have made about the IRS.
(2) One of today's witnesses was Carter Hull, who worked at the agency for 48 years before recently retiring. He was based in DC. Hull came across as an old-school, no-nonsense guy, and was very careful in his answers. Hull testified that he was given two critical Tea Party "test case" applications at the beginning of the targeting process. He recommended that one group be approved and the other be denied tax exempt status. Management stripped him of both cases, ignored his recommendations, and handed the applications over to a brand new employee with virtually no experience in the field. Hull said his supervisor told him the cases would be kicked up the chain into the IRS chief counsel's office. (The head of that office is an Obama appointee who met personally with the president in 2011, after his office got involved in the targeting process). Hull told the committee that senior management wanted to group all Tea Party-type groups together and develop a form letter to send to all such applicants, rather than considering each case on the merits. Hull advised against that course of action, but his opinion went unheeded. Hull characterized IRS management's actions throughout this entire case as "unusual."
(3) The other first-round witness was Elizabeth Hofacre, a Cincinnati-based IRS veteran of 14 years. She testified that hearing statements from Lois Lerner and White House spokesman Jay Carney blaming the improper targeting on "rogue" and "line" employees in her regional office felt like a "nuclear strike." She said she believes senior agency officials were trying to blame her for carrying out their orders, and expressed the opinion that Lois Lerner was intentionally trying to mislead the public in advancing that narrative. Hofacre said she was assigned dozens of Tea Party applications, all of which were delayed by her superiors. She eventually became so frustrated with the situation that she transferred divisions. Long after she left, many of her Tea Party cases remained in a "holding pattern" and unresolved. An important point:
#IRS witness Hofacre says delays in Tea Party, et al applications were worse than rejections b/c there was no opportunity to appeal.— Stephen Hayes (@stephenfhayes) July 18, 2013