Top IRS officials in Washington, D.C. planned and oversaw the agency’s improper targeting of conservative groups, according to the 72-year old retiring IRS lawyer who will testify Thursday before the House Oversight Committee.
Retiring IRS lawyer Carter C. Hull implicated the IRS Chief Counsel’s office, headed by Obama appointee William J. Wilkins, and Lois Lerner, the embattled head of the IRS’ exempt organizations office, in the IRS targeting scandal and made clear that the targeting started in Washington, according to leaked interviews that Hull granted to the Oversight Committee in advance of Thursday’s hearing.
Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George will return to Republican chairman Darrell Issa’s committee Thursday along with two central characters in the IRS saga: Hull and Cincinnati-based IRS employee Elizabeth Hofacre, who previously gave Hull’s name to congressional investigators, fingering him as her Washington-based supervisor.
Hull is naming names.
“In April 2010, Mr. Hull was instructed to scrutinize certain Tea Party applications by one of his superiors in Washington. According to Mr. Hull, these applications were used as ‘test’ cases and assigned to him because of his expertise and because IRS leadership in Washington was ‘trying to find out how [the IRS] should approach these organizations, and how [the IRS] should handle them,’” according to Oversight Committee documents.
“According to Hull’s testimony, Ms. Lerner…gave an atypical instruction that the Tea Party applications undergo special scrutiny that included an uncommon multi-layer review that involved a top advisor to Lerner as well as the Chief Counsel’s office,” according to Oversight Committee documents.
In August 2012, the “Chief Counsel’s office held a meeting with Mr. Hull, Ms. Lerner’s senior advisor, and other Washington officials to discuss these test applications.”
Lerner eventually told Hull that tea party applications would have to go through a round of review at the IRS Chief Counsel’s office, which “created a bottleneck and caused the delay of other Tea Party applications in Cincinnati,” according to Oversight Committee documents.
Former IRS official Michael Seto also told investigators about an email Lerner sent laying out her new review process, in which tea party applications would have to go through her staff, according to Oversight documents.
As The Daily Caller reported, Hull instructed Hofacre’s Cincinnati office, which oversaw audits of tax-exempt nonprofit groups, to target tea party groups and provided her a copy of a letter he wrote to a conservative group requesting additional information in an audit. Hull signed a May 12, 2010 letter to the Albuquerque Tea Party, grilling the group on the recent content of its newsletters and its website.
“I was essentially a front person, because I had no autonomy or no authority to act on [applications] without Carter Hull’s influence or input,” Hofacre told congressional investigators.
Hull is retiring from the IRS this summer, and he recently took down his Facebook page after he was publicly exposed.
Hull’s interviews indicate that he is unlikely to plead the Fifth, as some lawyers involved in the scandal were expecting.
“The big question here is: will Carter Hull plead the Fifth?” Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents tea party plaintiffs in a class-action suit against the IRS, told the Daily Caller prior to the leaking of his interview transcripts. “We have letter after letter from him proving that he targeted tea party groups. Will he acknowledge the existence of these letters? Or will he do what Lois Lerner did and plead the Fifth?”
“In her case, unsuccessfully,” Sekulow added.
Lerner, the Washington-based IRS official who originally apologized on behalf of the agency in May, attempted to plead the Fifth Amendment in an Oversight hearing, but committee members, led by Republican chairman Darrell Issa, ruled that she had already waived her Fifth Amendment rights by making a statement in a hearing attesting to her innocence.
It is unclear at this time whether Hull and Hofacre ever met in person prior to Thursday’s hearing.