POLITICS

IRS Scandal Sparks Questions From Senators: Did The White House Know?

05/20/2013 01:17 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2013
AP

WASHINGTON -- The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Finance Committee on Monday fired off a lengthy letter demanding answers to 41 separate questions about Internal Revenue Service officials' role in targeting tea party groups.

Among them were questions about whether anyone in the White House, including President Barack Obama, knew of the agency's extra scrutiny of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

The sweeping block of questions comes a day before the committee is due to hold a hearing Tuesday into the IRS targeting, which was revealed recently by an inspector general report that found numerous instances of applicants being singled out because their groups' names contained the words "tea party" or "patriots."

Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who is resigning in the aftermath, testified before the House Friday that the targeting was not politically motivated, noting that liberal groups were also reviewed. He argued that the inappropriate listing of certain names for review was merely a mistaken effort at workload management.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking Republican on the committee, do not appear satisfied, however, writing to Miller on Monday with their list of questions.

Among them are queries designed to reveal every person in the chain of command at the IRS who crafted and knew about the targeting -- which lasted for more than 18 months -- and what they did about it.

Some of the senators' questions would also seem to feed growing concerns about whether knowledge of the practice was confined to the IRS.

"Provide documents relating to communications between any and all IRS employees and any and all White House employees including, but not limited to, the President," the letter demands in one of its final points.

Part of the senators' pique seems due to the agency's failure to tell Hatch and other senators about the tea party targeting, even after he and others asked repeatedly.

Baucus and Hatch argue in the letter that resolving their questions is a matter of restoring trust in a vital agency.

"Targeting for tax-exempt status using political labels threatens to undermine the public's trust in the IRS," they write. "Lack of candor in advising the Senate of this practice is equally troubling."

The full letter is here. The senators give Miller until May 31 to answer, guaranteeing at least one more spate of revelations from the unfolding scandal.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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