WASHINGTON -- The embattled and departing head of the IRS on Friday defended as proper the actions taken by IRS employees who selected for close scrutiny tea party groups and other conservative organizations.
Testifying before a heated, partisan hearing by the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Steven Miller, acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, repeatedly pushed back against Republican lawmakers who insisted that conservatives were, and are still, being targeted.
The term targeting is pejorative, Miller insisted, trying to explain that what actually happened is that terms such as tea party and patriot were used as shortcuts to identify groups that might not actually be social welfare organizations as required, but rather political groups with campaign motives.
That didnt sit well with GOP members, who all but accused Miller of committing perjury during congressional hearings last year in which he testified that he was unaware of targeting of certain groups.
Why did you mislead Congress and the American people on this? asked Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., prompting Miller to angrily counter, I did not mislead Congress and the American people. I answer the questions.
President Barack Obama fired Miller on Wednesday. He will leave the agency in June.
When it was his turn, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican 2012 vice presidential nominee and favorite of tea party organizations, went back at Miller to repeat that he and his predecessor, Bush administration appointee Doug Shulman, were untruthful in their prior testimony.
How can we not conclude that you misled this committee, asked Ryan.
I did not mislead this committee, Miller replied. I stand by my answer then. I stand by my answer now.
"We selected, to be blunt, more than tea party cases.
Republican lawmakers did get Miller to concede that a question offered last Friday at a conference of the American Bar Association that set off a political firestorm in Washington was actually a plant. Miller said that Celia Roady, a partner in the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, and member of the IRS advisory committee on tax-exempt entities, had prior discussions with IRS official Lois Lerner and asked a planted question.
Lerners response, which included an apology for inappropriate treatment of certain conservative applicants, set in motion a chain of political events that led this week to Millers ouster.
Lawmakers didnt ask Miller why the question was planned, and Miller offered no explanation or further details.
In a statement Friday to the Washington Post, Roady said that Lerner suggested the question. She did not tell me, and I did not know, how she would answer the question, Roady said, according to the Post.
Under questioning, Miller said the decision to make the information public came after a report by a Treasury Department inspector was concluded, but acknowledged that it preceded any attempt to share the information with Congress.
In another surprise, Miller acknowledged that he had promoted the woman who had partial oversight over the controversial Cincinnati-based tax-exempt designations office to a new post that will handle requirements imposed on the IRS by the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care overhaul. The IRS will be receiving paystub information to determine who is eligible for subsidized health care coverage.