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Former IRS chief to Congress: Can't say how targeting of conservative groups happened

By Stephen Ohlemacher

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, May 21 2013 4:09 p.m. MDT

Ousted IRS Chief Steve Miller, left, and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman arrive on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Tuesday, May 21, 2013., to testify before the Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) practice of targeting applicants for tax-exempt status based on political leanings.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The man who led the Internal Revenue Service when it was giving extra scrutiny to tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status told Congress on Tuesday that he knew little about what was happening while he was still commissioner.

Douglas Shulman, who vacated his position last November when his five-year term expired, told the Senate Finance Committee he didn't learn all the facts until he read last week's report by a Treasury inspector general confirming the targeting strategy.

In his first public remarks since the story broke, Shulman said: "I agree this is an issue that when someone spotted it, they should have brought it up the chain. And they didn't. I don't know why."

Shulman testified at Congress' second hearing on an episode that has largely consumed Washington since an IRS official acknowledged the targeting and apologized for it in remarks to a legal group on May 10. Shulman and the two officials who testified at Tuesday's three-and-a-half hour session — the outgoing acting commissioner, Steven Miller, and J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general who issued the report — were all sworn in as witnesses, an unusual step for the Finance panel.

Shulman said he first learned about the targeting and about the inspector general's investigation in the spring of 2012, during the presidential election. He said that in a meeting with Miller, he was told that IRS workers were using a list to help decide which groups seeking tax-exempt status should get special attention, that the term "tea party" was on that list and that the problem was being addressed. But he said he didn't know what other words were on that list or the scope and severity of the activity.

Pressed by committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., on how the improper screening system could have occurred in the first place, Shulman said, "Mr. Chairman, I can't say. I can't say that I know that answer."

Shulman said he took what he thought were the proper steps — making sure the inspector general was looking into the situation. He said he did not tell Treasury officials about the improper activity.

"I don't recall talking to anyone about it," Shulman told the committee. "This is not the kind of information" that, with an inspector general's probe underway, "should leave the IRS."

Asked by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, whether he owed conservative groups an apology, Shulman said, "I'm certainly not personally responsible for creating a list that had inappropriate criteria on it."

That was a reference to a list of words IRS workers looked for in deciding which groups to screen, a list that included the terms including "tea party" and "patriot."

"I very much regret that it happened and that it happened on my watch," Shulman said.

The testimony by Shulman and Miller drew skepticism from lawmakers of both parties, including critical remarks from people who have been unhesitant to say anything negative about the IRS since its activities were revealed nearly two weeks ago. Republicans openly rejected George's assertion that he has no evidence that the decision to target conservative groups was politically motivated.

A lack of political motivation "is almost beyond belief," said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

George's report blamed ineffective management for allowing agents to inappropriately target conservative groups for more than 18 months during the 2010 and 2012 elections. Shulman was appointed by President George W. Bush and served from March 2008 until last November.

At a separate hearing, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the IRS's actions against conservative groups were "unacceptable and inexcusable."

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