5 highlights from the House's first hearing into the IRS scandal

Republicans say the scandal is only the "tip of the iceberg"

IRS chief Steven Miller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 17.
(Image credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In a nearly four-hour-long hearing on Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee grilled outgoing Internal Revenue Service chief Steven Miller over the agency's targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt status.

The IRS has admitted to singling out such groups for extra scrutiny, leading Republicans to accuse the agency of a partisan bias.

While Miller deflected many of the questions posed by members of the committee, saying he either did not know or was unprepared to provide detailed answers, the hearing still shed some new light on the scandal.

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Here, five highlights from the show:

1. The IRS deliberately outed itself

One of Friday's biggest revelations was that the IRS planted the question that led to the agency confirming it had flagged conservative groups.

Last Friday, Lois Lerner, who heads the agency's tax-exempt division, seemingly spilled the beans in response to a question from an audience member at an unrelated conference. According to Miller, that had probably been the plan all along.

When asked if the agency had known that question would come up, Miller replied, "I believe that we talked about that, yes."

In light of that revelation, the top two Democrats on the committee, Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Sander Levin (D-Mich), called for Lerner to resign, the idea being that she should have disclosed that information to Congress first.

2. Administration officials knew about the IRS investigation in 2012

The Treasury Department's inspector general, who this week released a report on the IRS' targeting program, said he'd told senior Treasury officials last June about the inquiry.

J. Russell George, the inspector general, said he'd told at least two higher-ups in the Treasury, including Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, that he was investigating the matter. However, he said that he never discussed with them his final conclusion that "inappropriate criteria" were used to single out conservative groups.

Republicans have pointedly asked who in the administration knew what, and when they knew it. As a result, that revelation, though not explosive in itself, will likely fuel calls for more information.

"That raises a big question," Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said.

3. Republicans call Miller a liar

GOP members of the committee — frustrated by the the agency's past insistence that no targeting had occurred — accused Miller of being untruthful.

"In fact, we were repeatedly told no such targeting was happening," said Rep. Dave Camp, (R-Mich.), the committee chairman. "That isn't being misled, that's lying."

Miller, stone-faced, pushed back.

"I always answer questions truthfully, Mr. Camp," he said.

Last summer, members of the committee asked about conservative groups' complaints that the IRS was singling out their applications. Yet the IRS did not tell Congress about what was going on at the agency because, Miller said, it was waiting on the IG report.

Republicans were unmoved. "How can we not conclude that you misled this committee?" Ryan asked.

4. Miller claims there was no political "targeting"

Miller objected to the term "targeting," saying that while the agency's actions were "obnoxious," they were not politically motivated.

"What happened here was foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection," he said.

However, he would not go much further than that. He insisted that he did not know specifically who was behind it.

"I don't have that name," he told lawmakers.

5. Republicans link scandal to Obama

Republicans sought to cast the scandal as proof of a "culture of cover-ups" within the White House, as Camp put it. And they suggested that the scandal had roots far deeper than we know now.

"We also know that these revelations are just the tip of the iceberg," Camp said in his opening statement. "It would be a mistake to treat this as just one scandal."

Democrats on the committee, though they remained critical of the IRS' actions, shot back that Republicans were using the hearings to "score political points," as Levin put it.

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Jon Terbush

Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.