That is a bombshell—such a big one that it managed to emerge in spite of an unfocused, frequently off-point congressional hearing in which some members seemed to have accidentally woken up in the middle of a committee room, some seemed unaware of the implications of what their investigators had uncovered, one pretended that the investigation should end if IRS workers couldn’t say the president had personally called and told them to harass his foes, and one seemed to be holding a filibuster on Pakistan.
Still, what landed was a bombshell. And Democrats know it. Which is why they are so desperate to make the investigation go away. They know, as Republicans do, that the chief counsel of the IRS is one of only two Obama political appointees in the entire agency.
To quickly review why the new information, which came most succinctly in a nine-page congressional letter to IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel, is big news:
When the scandal broke two months ago, in May, IRS leadership in Washington claimed the harassment of tea-party and other conservative groups requesting tax-exempt status was confined to the Cincinnati office, where a few rogue workers bungled the application process. Lois Lerner, then the head of the exempt organizations unit in Washington, said “line people in Cincinnati” did work that was “not so fine.” They asked questions that “weren’t really necessary,” she claimed, and operated without “the appropriate level of sensitivity.” But the targeting was “not intentional.” Ousted acting commissioner Steven Miller also put it off on “people in Cincinnati.” They provided “horrible customer service.”
House investigators soon talked to workers in the Cincinnati office, who said everything they did came from Washington. Elizabeth Hofacre, in charge of processing tea-party applications in Cincinnati, told investigators that her work was overseen and directed by a lawyer in the IRS Washington office named Carter Hull.
Now comes Mr. Hull’s testimony. And like Ms. Hofacre, he pointed his finger upward. Mr. Hull—a 48-year IRS veteran and an expert on tax exemption law—told investigators that tea-party applications under his review were sent upstairs within the Washington office, at the direction of Lois Lerner.
In April 2010, Hull was assigned to scrutinize certain tea-party applications. He requested more information from the groups. After he received responses, he felt he knew enough to determine whether the applications should be approved or denied.
But his recommendations were not carried out.
Michael Seto, head of Mr. Hull’s unit, also spoke to investigators. He told them Lois Lerner made an unusual decision: Tea-party applications would undergo additional scrutiny—a multilayered review.
Mr. Hull told House investigators that at some point in the winter of 2010-11, Ms. Lerner’s senior adviser, whose name is withheld in the publicly released partial interview transcript, told him the applications would require further review:
Q: “Did [the senior adviser to Ms. Lerner] indicate to you whether she agreed with your recommendations?”
A: “She did not say whether she agreed or not. She said it should go to chief counsel.”
Q: “The IRS chief counsel?”
A: “The IRS chief counsel.”
The IRS chief counsel is named William Wilkins. And again, he is one of only two Obama political appointees in the IRS.
What was the chief counsel’s office looking for?