KWAME HOLMAN: Conservative groups spoke out today about the abuse they say they endured at the hands of the IRS. It was their first appearance at a congressional hearing since the controversy broke.
MAN: Good morning.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans in charge of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee called six organizations scrutinized by the IRS when they applied for tax-exempt status.
Representatives of the groups told of waiting up to three years for their applications to be approved and having to answer questions about their political views.
Becky Gerritson leads a tea party group in Alabama.
BECKY GERRITSON, Wetumpka Tea Party: Government agents made invasive and excessive demands for information they were not entitled to. The individuals who sought to intimidate us were acting as they thought they should: in a government culture that has little respect for its citizens.
KWAME HOLMAN: And John Eastman said the IRS disclosed confidential information about supporters of his anti-gay marriage group, the National Organization for Marriage.
JOHN EASTMAN, National Organization for Marriage: The effort seems to have been designed to subject our donors to abuse, to intimidation and more significantly for our purposes to chill them from donating again so we can keep up the political fight that we’re in the middle of.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats joined in criticizing the IRS’ handling of the applications, but Washington State’s Jim McDermott argued the groups were highly political, so some questions were justified.
REP. JIM MCDERMOTT, D-Wash.: None of your organizations were kept from organizing or silenced. We’re talking about whether or not the American taxpayers will subsidize your work. We’re talking about a tax break.
KWAME HOLMAN: The IRS also faced new criticism for spending. A Treasury Department inspector general reported some 200 employee conferences held by the agency between 2010 and 2012 cost $50 million dollars. That included one training video showing workers dancing and another parodying the 1960s TV show “Star Trek.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie moved today to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat with a special election in October. The seat was held by veteran Democrat Frank Lautenberg. He died yesterday at the age of 89. Christie could have named a temporary replacement to serve through 2014 and finish out Lautenberg’s term, but he said that wouldn’t be fair to voters.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: There are going to be a lot of consequential things that are going to be decided in the United — or could be decided in the United States Senate in that 18 months. And I just thought it was too long a period of time for any person to have the sole authority to pick who represents us in the United States Senate.
I believe the people have the right to make that decision. They need to have a voice and a choice.
KWAME HOLMAN: Christie said he will appoint someone to serve as New Jersey senator until the October vote. The governor himself is up for reelection in this year’s general election set for November.
A Colorado judge today accepted a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity in last summer’s mass shooting at a movie theater. James Holmes appeared this morning to enter the plea. He’s charged with killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. His action today sets the stage for a long mental evaluation before any trial.
The deputy prime minister of Turkey has issued a partial apology for a crackdown on anti-government protesters. He acknowledged today that police initially used excessive force in raiding a sit-in at a park. But he said thousands of others who battled police do not deserve an apology. Demonstrators were out in force again today in Ankara, but this time, riot police handed them flowers in the same colors as the Turkish flag.
There were new assertions today of chemical weapons use in Syria. A United Nations commission of inquiry reported it has reasonable grounds to believe at least four such attacks have taken place. The commission could not determine who used the weapons. But it did say both government and rebel forces have committed war crimes.
Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro spoke in Geneva.
PAULO PINHEIRO, Chair, Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria: Crimes that shock the conscience have become a daily reality. Humanity has been the casualty of this war. Syria needs not a military surge. Syria needs a diplomatic surge.
KWAME HOLMAN: Separately, the French government said it has confirmed sarin nerve gas has been used multiple times in Syria, at least once by Assad regime forces.
In Egypt, a court sentenced 16 Americans to up to five years in prison for using foreign funds to foment unrest. All worked for nonprofit organizations, and all but one already had left the country. They were sentenced in absentia. The judge also ordered that the offices of several of the nonprofits be closed.
The death toll from floods in Europe rose to at least 10 today, even as floodwaters receded in the hard-hit city of Passau, Germany. Rain-swollen rivers across southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic still were rising in other cities. Thousands of German soldiers were called in to help sandbag and get people out of the flood zone.
Wall Street gave ground today amid questions about how much longer the Federal Reserve’s stimulus efforts will last. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 76 points to close at 15,177. The Nasdaq fell 20 points to close at 3,445.
Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Gwen.