Republicans Still Fired Up Over IRS Scandal Following Hearing

BY Terence Burlij and Katelyn Polantz  May 20, 2013 at 9:10 AM EST

Photo by Ann Hermes / The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images
Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

The Morning Line

At this point, there appears to be more heat than light when it comes to discussion of the Internal Revenue Service’s singling out of conservative groups for extra scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status.

After a week of public statements of outrage, the release of a Treasury Department inspector general’s report, the resignation of two IRS officials and the first congressional hearing on the matter, some guests on the Sunday talk shows still had much to say about it.

On NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., charged that the IRS scandal reflected “a culture of intimidation throughout the administration.”

Host David Gregory pressed McConnell for proof of his assertion: “You can you talk about a culture. Do you have any evidence that the President of the United States directed what you call a culture of intimidation at the IRS to target political opponents?”

“I don’t think we know what the facts are,” McConnell responded. “The investigation has just begun. So I’m not going to reach a conclusion about what we may find, but what we do know happened is they were targeting Tea Party groups. We know that.”

Some GOP lawmakers have called for criminal charges to be leveled against those responsible for implementing the practices. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday that questions about whether the actions broke the law were “irrelevant” because they were simply wrong on their face.

“The law is irrelevant. The activity was outrageous and inexcusable, and it was stopped,” Pfeiffer said on ABC News’ “This Week.” “We need it to be fixed, so we can ensure it never happens again.”

At which point host George Stephanopoulos responded: “You don’t really mean the law is irrelevant, do you?”

“What I mean is that whether it’s legal, or illegal is — is not important to the fact that it — that, the conduct as a matter. The Department of Justice said they’re looking into the legality of this. The president is not going to wait for that. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen again regardless of how that turns out,” Pfeiffer said.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll released Sunday found that the IRS controversy had not harmed President Barack Obama’s approval rating. According to the survey 53 percent of Americans said they approved of the president’s job performance, while 45 percent disapproved.

More than seven in 10 Americans responded that targeting of conservative groups by the IRS was unacceptable, but 55 percent said they believed the agency acted on its own. Fewer than four in 10 said they believed the White House ordered the targeting of conservative groups.

With 55 percent of the public saying the IRS matter was “very important,” which means the it will remain a focal point for both the administration and members of Congress in the weeks to come. There will be two more congressional hearings this week looking into the agency’s practices, beginning with the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

The House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee will hold a session Wednesday that will include former IRS commissioner Doug Shulman, who testified last year that there was “absolutely no targeting” of conservative groups.

BuzzFeed reported over the weekend that the chair of that panel, California Republican Darrell Issa, first learned about the Treasury Department’s audit in July 2012.

And the Wall Street’ Journal’s Peter Nicholas reported Sunday on new information about when the White House first learned of the Treasury Department’s audit of IRS activities:

The White House’s chief lawyer learned weeks ago that an audit of the Internal Revenue Service likely would show that agency employees inappropriately targeted conservative groups, a senior White House official said Sunday. That disclosure has prompted a debate over whether the president should have been notified at that time.

In the week of April 22, the Office of the White House Counsel and its head, Kathryn Ruemmler, were told by Treasury Department attorneys that an inspector general’s report was nearing completion, the White House official said. In that conversation, Ms. Ruemmler learned that “a small number of line IRS employees had improperly scrutinized certain…organizations by using words like ‘tea party’ and ‘patriot,’ ” the official said.

The New York Times outlined in great detail exactly what happened in the Cincinnati office. Among the tidbits in the Sunday front-page piece:

Overseen by a revolving cast of midlevel managers, stalled by miscommunication with I.R.S. lawyers and executives in Washington and confused about the rules they were enforcing, the Cincinnati specialists flagged virtually every application with Tea Party in its name. But their review went beyond conservative groups: more than 400 organizations came under scrutiny, including at least two dozen liberal-leaning ones and some that were seemingly apolitical.

The American Center for Law and Justice is representing 27 tea party groups touched by the IRS scandal and likely will press lawsuits on behalf of some of those groups against the government, ABC News reported.

The NewsHour’s Kwame Holman rounded up Friday’s House Ways and Means hearing, which featured testimony from the outgoing acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller, and J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration who conducted the audit released last week. Watch the report here or below:

REFLECTIONS ON WATERGATE

The NewsHour’s special report looking back at the 40-year anniversary of the Senate Watergate hearings, which launched the birth of a new type of journalism and a partnership between Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil, aired on Friday.

Jeffrey Brown explored the surprising and game-changing moments from the hearings with Lehrer and MacNeil in a piece produced by Elizabeth Summers.

Watch the special report here or below:

And check out our special Watergate page, which include’s Meena Ganesan’s look at where major figures from the Watergate era are today, Justin Scuiletti’s supercut of the hearings boiled down into 16-and-a-half minutes and viewers sharing what they remember from the summer of 1973.

LINE ITEMS

  • Associated Press president and CEO Gary Pruitt said the organization can’t say yet whether it will take legal action against the Justice Department for secretly seizing its reporters’ phone records. He called the action “unconstitutional.”

  • Ann Marimow of the Washington Post reveals another Justice Department leaks investigation, this one regarding North Korea and the department tracing a reporter’s movements and emails, that may shed light on how the government conducts similar probes.

  • Mr. Obama delivered the commencement speech at Morehouse University, an all-male and historically black school in Atlanta. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the speech’s full text.

  • NPR’s Ari Shapiro surveyed a collection of Mr. Obama’s commencement addresses since 2009 and notes how they’ve reflected the state of the nation and the president’s vision.

  • Two FBI agents died Friday in a training accident off the coast of Virginia Beach.

  • Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner on Friday indicating the government won’t hit the debt ceiling until after Labor Day. In the letter Lew also wrote that raising the country’s borrowing limit should not be treated as a “bargaining chip to be used for partisan political ends.”

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is still considering using the “nuclear option” on judicial and executive branch nominations, the Washington Post reports.

  • Virginia Republicans held their annual convention in Richmond on Saturday to choose their ticket for the fall elections. As expected, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli won the party’s gubernatorial nomination and will face Democrat Terry McAuliffe in November. But there was a surprise in the seven-way race for lieutenant governor, with minister and lawyer E.W. Jackson taking the nomination. Jackson is the first black Republican nominee for statewide office in Virginia since 1988. The GOP activists in attendance selected state Sen. Mark Obenshain as the party’s nominee for attorney general.

  • Jackson’s nomination didn’t go unnoticed outside Virginia. Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski rounded up anti-gay statements Jackson has made. Salon highlights a few other quotes.

  • Cuccinelli has altered his interpretation of whether his office has to comply with Freedom of Information Act Requests, using a state supreme court decision to argue that since the AG’s office derives its authority from the state constitution instead of the legislature, it’s exempt from the FOIA law.

  • Don’t expect open seats for Sen. Rand Paul’s speech at a New Hampshire GOP dinner Monday. The event is sold out.

  • Waiting for their candidate, Georgia Democrats may take it as positive sign that Michelle Nunn attended a DSCC fundraiser with Mr. Obama this weekend. Not to mention that DSCC chair Michael Bennet, D-Colo., called the Peach State “the greatest opportunity for a pickup.”

  • The Philadelphia Inquirer highlights the surprising amount of money — almost $300,000 — coming from California’s technology industry to support New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s reelection effort.

  • More than 1,000 Harvard students are urging the university to investigate how former Heritage Foundation staffer (and immigraiton study co-author) Jason Richwine’s now-controversial thesis was approved.

  • The Washington Post caught up with four big alumni of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 “Team of Rivals.” They won’t be returning if she runs in 2016.

  • Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner is in jail awaiting a federal court appearance after her arrest for extortion charges.

  • Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez looks into why so few Los Angelenos vote in local elections. (Short answer: “L.A.’s too cool to vote.”) Lopez is hoping for 25 percent turnout in Tuesday’s mayoral election, and wrote a poem to entice readers.

  • The company owned by the conservative activist Koch brothers keeps a growing “black mountain” of petroleum coke in Detroit, which has angered residents.

  • Immigrating to America may bring opportunity, but it causes shortened lifespans, especially among U.S.-born Hispanics compared with those who are foreign born.

  • It’s not too surprising AP photographer Charles Dharapak caught the shot of Mr. Obama and a Marine holding an umbrella at last week’s Rose Garden press conference. Dharapak spots the best president-meets-umbrella moments from three administrations.

  • Fifty-three million people have witnessed its jousting dinner. But did you know Medieval Times is headed to a movie screen near you?

  • Political Editor Christina Bellantoni was on Diane Rehm’s Friday News Roundup. Listen here. She also participated in a HuffPostLive roundtable.

  • Also, Monday is Christina’s birthday, so don’t forget to send her your best wishes!

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Mark Shields and David Brooks agree that the IRS’s improper targeting of conservative groups has a bigger bearing on trust in government than on Mr. Obama’s presidency. But compared to the erosion of public confidence in government caused by Watergate, Mark said, “we’re talking about the Boston massacre vs. double parking, I mean, this week.” Watch:

  • On our Making Sense page, Paul Solman shows there’s a reason there’s so much talk about income inequality: the disparity in concentration of wealth is more stark than it was 100 years ago.

  • NewsHour science blogger Jenny Marder went cicada hunting.

TOP TWEETS

Christina Bellantoni and Desk Assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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