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Congressional hearing seeks to ask IRS: 'Why?'

10:08 PM, May 16, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Fallout Continues in IRS Scandal

House Ways and Means Committees Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., left, and ranking Democrat Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich.,in a hearing last year. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite AP)

WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- The nation's soon-to-be former top tax official will face questions Friday about why he failed to inform Congress about the Internal Revenue Service's treatment of Tea Party groups last year -- even under direct questioning.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., stopped short of saying that Steven Miller lied to Congress, "but it seems pretty clear that he was aware of this ongoing targeting. And he didn't tell Congress."

Friday's hearing will be a fact-finding mission to "find out who was responsible for subjecting conservative groups to additional scrutiny, why they did it, and how pervasive it was," Camp said.

And Camp said the inquiries won't stop with Tea Party groups, whose applications for tax-exempt status were delayed simply by virtue of their group name. Camp also wants to know if pro-Israel groups and individual donors to conservative causes were also targeted for invasive questioning and audits.

"What struck me is there really seemed to be a culture of discrimination. This was OK with a lot of people, and this went on without anyone batting an eye," Camp told USA TODAY. "And the so-called 'fix' actually made the problem worse."

The hearing portends to be a rare show of congressional bipartisanship. The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Sandy Levin, said he's as committed to getting the facts as his Republican counterpart. But he added, "We need to get the facts, and not twist them."

Only two witnesses are scheduled Friday: Steven Miller, who was ousted Wednesday as acting IRS commissioner, and J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. It was his report this week that exposed the practice after three years."We need to get the facts, and not twist them."

Of particular concern on both sides is Miller's 2012 testimony, in which he failed to disclose the Tea Party targeting.

Levin said at least three IRS officials misrepresented -- at hearings and in response to letters -- that there was no political targeting. "They knew there were concerns in our committee about the way applications were handled. They had an obligation to inform us They failed in that obligation."

Miller, who remains on as acting IRS commissioner until Wednesday, is represented by an attorney, Camp said. But the chairman said he didn't know if Miller planned to invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination. "That's his decision," he said.

The Justice Department has launched an investigation to determine whether any crimes were committed in the matter.

Follow @gregorykorte on Twitter.

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