WASHINGTON — The acting head of the IRS insisted Friday that he and other agency officials did not mislead Congress by failing to disclose that applications by conservative groups for tax-exempt status were mishandled, and he said to call it “targeting” incorrectly implied political motivations.
Members of the House Ways and Means Committee grilled Steven Miller, who has resigned as acting commissioner but is still on the job until Wednesday, why he made no mention of the problems in letters and testimony to Congress, despite being aware of the issue.
“How can we conclude that you did not mislead this committee?” asked a visibly agitated Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) “I did not mislead the committee,” Miller said. “I stand by my answer then. I stand by my answer now.”
Miller said the queries from lawmakers in 2012 asked if the IRS was “targeting” conservative groups for intensive questioning and prolonged delays in their applications for 501(c)4 nonprofit status.
“When you talk about targeting, it’s a pejorative term,” Miller said. He later said “targeting” was a “loaded term,” ascribing partisan motives to what he said was a flawed work process.
“I can say generally, we provided horrible customer service here,” Miller later said. “I will admit that. We did horrible customer service. … Whether it was politically motivated or not is a very different question.”
The agency did not publicly disclose the problem until May 10, when Lois Lerner, director of the IRS’ exempt organizations division, apologized at a tax law conference, an unorthodox venue for such an admission.
Just two days earlier, Lerner had testified in front of a Ways and Means subcommittee and made no mention of the issue.
Lerner was asked by Celia Roady, a member of the agency’s advisory board for tax-exempt entities, how the agency was dealing with applications from 501(c)4 groups.
Miller said Friday that the question was anticipated and Lerner’s answer was prepared in advance.