WASHINGTON D.C. – An IRS official at the center of the agency’s scandal over screening applications for conservative groups told Congress Thursday for the first time that a political appointee in Washington was behind delays in approving requests to set up tax-exempt status for the political advocacy groups, Fox News reported.
Carter Hull, a recently retired tax specialist for the IRS in Washington, said delays in processing the applications from conservative groups were caused by demands that documents be sent for review to the Office for Chief Counsel headed by political appointee William Wilkins, Fox reported.
During testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Hull said the extra level of scrutiny was “unusual.”
He blamed delays in processing the applications from the Cincinnati office — one of five regional offices assigned to review the applications — on the delay in receiving guidance from the chief counsel’s office. “I was waiting for word from chief counsel as to how to proceed,” said Hull.
Hull, a veteran of the IRS, had earlier been fingered by workers in the Cincinnatti office who told congressional investigators he micromanaged the applications from tea party groups and other conservative organizations.
But Hull said he was taking orders from higher up in the chain of command.
Hull said he was initially told to forward documents to IRS official Lois Lerner, but was later told to send the documents to her boss, the chief counsel.
Hull said that he was never told to hold up applications, but that after meeting with the chief counsel’s office in Aug., 2011, the applications were taken out of his control and forwarded on for “further review,” which he said was “rare,” according to Fox News.
Also testifying Thursday was Elizabeth Hofacre, an official in the IRS Cincinnati office who was processing the tea party applications under Hull’s direction. She told lawmakers that she was “deeply offended” when government officials tried to blame the delays on a handful of rogue employees at her office.
“Personally, I felt like it was a nuclear strike. I felt they were blaming us,” she said.
Committee chairman Darrel Issa, (R-Cali), said yesterday they are going to call Lerner to testify. She has so far refused, invoking her Fifth Amendment rights. But Republicans insist she waived those rights by earlier delivering a prepared statement to the committee.
“We intend to have her back,” Issa told Fox News on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Democrats on the committee continued to suggest that IRS Inspector General J. Russell George was suppressing details about other groups, including liberal activist organizations, whose tax exempt applications had also been delayed.
George on Thursday testified that his office had not received documents on the other groups as he prepared his May report raising questions about the potential targeting of tea party and other conservative organizations.
“I am disturbed that these documents were not provided to our auditors at the outset, and we are currently reviewing the issue,” George said in his prepared opening statement at a House Oversight hearing.
Democrats are anxious to show that any added scrutiny by the IRS wasn’t solely directed at the tea party.