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Lawmakers Continue to Probe IRS

Congress returns from recess to three more IRS hearings and a lawsuit.

Congress returns from a weeklong recess with inquiries into the Internal Revenue Service still atop its agenda, as three more hearings have been set and a lawsuit has been filed in federal court.

On Monday, President Obama’s new pick to run the embattled tax agency, Danny Werfel, will make his first appearance since taking over the IRS at a House Appropriations subcommittee. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George, whose audit set off the scandal, will also appear.

On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee will hear from conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status and were targeted for extra scrutiny by IRS officials in recent years. Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., says the hearing will give “a voice to those Americans who wound up under the IRS’s political microscope on the basis of their beliefs.”

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., will also hold a hearing Thursday that examines the IRS’s spending on conferences, based on a report coming from George.

“The IRS is an agency in crisis,” Issa said in a statement. “The American people expect that their tax dollars will be used responsibly and not for financing lavish hotel suites and entertainment for government employees.”

Meanwhile, the IRS will continue to scramble to answer numerous congressional demands for information. Both the Ways and Means panel and the Senate Finance Committee have demanded documents and memos that lawmakers hope will shed light on how the targeting began, who approved it, and how it was allowed to continue for so long.

But lawmakers aren’t waiting for the IRS documents to get answers. Behind the scenes, investigators from both the Ways and Means and Oversight and Government Reform Committees are working in tandem to conduct interviews with at least four IRS tax officials, according to aides familiar with the investigation. Issa has said he conducted one such interview with Holly Paz, who works at the tax-exempt division.

The controversy has also spilled into federal court. The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative organization, filed suit against the IRS and the Obama administration last week on behalf of 25 groups, alleging they were unfairly targeted and seeking monetary damages.

“We are now in the litigation phase,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel to the ACLJ.

Sekulow said the list of those suing is likely to grow by “up to another dozen” this week. At least some of Sekulow’s clients will be among those testifying at the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday about the hardships the IRS imposed upon them.

Republicans are keen to keep the IRS scandal in the spotlight, even if they have yet to tie the targeting directly to the White House.

In a memo to GOP lawmakers Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the chamber’s committees held more than 100 oversight hearings in May and will continue the work—which he called “a vitally important check and balance to the Obama administration”—over the coming months.

“We will continue our work to determine who directed IRS employees to target conservative groups, why it was done, and who knew about it,” Cantor wrote. “We will follow the facts and continue in our efforts to uncover the truth behind the attacks in Benghazi. We will explore DOJ’s actions in seizing phone records and e-mails of the news media. We will also continue our oversight of the implementation of Obamacare and the administration’s energy policy.”

Polling shows that of the trio of potential scandals that drew attention in May—the IRS, Benghazi, and the targeting of journalists by the Justice Department—the tax-agency scandal has most captured the public’s interest. A Quinnipiac poll last week showed that 44 percent of voters believe it is the most significant of the three, 20 percentage points ahead of the next-closest issue.

This article appears in the June 3, 2013, edition of National Journal Daily as Lawmakers Will Continue to Probe IRS.