Tempers flare at IRS hearing

A heated argument erupted Thursday at a hearing on the IRS, with Democrats and Republicans trading charges about the work of the Oversight Committee.

Two Democrats on the panel accused their GOP colleagues of repeatedly holding hearings on the IRS for political reasons.

ADVERTISEMENT
In his opening statement, Oversight Committee ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) complained that the hearing was the 23rd held about the IRS in recent years.

“Unfortunately, Republicans have become obsessed with investigating any and every allegation relating to the IRS, no matter how small,” he said. 

He said Republicans are frustrated that they have never found proof that the White House conspired with the IRS to target conservative groups or shown that any IRS employee destroyed evidence during the investigation.

“The problem now is that our committee is in a mindset where we are just trying to get the IRS,” Cummings said.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.), chairman of the Oversight subcommittee on administrative rules, fired back.

“We’re not trying to get the IRS. The IRS was trying to get conservative Americans who were exercising their First Amendment, free speech right,” he said. “Twenty-three hearings is a pretty small price to pay when you’re trying to protect fundamental liberties in the Constitution, for goodness sake.” 

Jordan said the hearings are warranted because the IRS has engaged in a pattern of destroying records and documents.

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerry Connolly3 years after Crimea, US struggles with response to Russia House Oversight grills law enforcement on facial recognition tech Overnight Cybersecurity: White House says Trump confident DOJ will hand over wiretapping evidence | Dems push for surveillance law reform MORE (D-Va.) echoed Cummings. He accused Republicans of slashing the IRS’s budget and making it hard for the agency to do its job. Congress could reduce the national debt by giving the IRS more resources to collect unpaid taxes, but it hasn’t because “ideologically, the IRS is such a juicy target,” he said.

Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzOversight chair: 'Ridiculous' to call for investigation into Nunes The Hill's 12:30 Report Secret Service agents set for discipline after fence-jumping incident: report MORE (R-Utah) asked Connolly to yield twice while giving his statement, but the Virginian refused.

When Connolly was done speaking, Chaffetz said it was beneath Connolly to “suggest, and try to assign motivation to our attempt here to get at the truth.”

“Name one thing that I said in my opening statement that’s not true. Name it. You don’t have anything,” Chaffetz said.

“You don’t have anything, Mr. Chairman,” Connolly replied.

“Yes I do,” Chaffetz said, before describing questions he had for the IRS officials testifying at the hearing.

Cummings agreed that questions over why the IRS is using old computer systems are legitimate. Connolly agreed, too, but said those questions have to be “balanced” with questions about the IRS budget.

“It’s in my set of questions and why we’re having this hearing today,” Chaffetz said.

“Except that it isn’t,” Connolly replied.

Chaffetz slammed Connolly in turn. “For the gentleman to suggest those aren’t my questions and to impugn the motive of any member is totally inappropriate,” he said.

Connolly said he didn’t attack Chaffetz’s motives and was just characterizing the hearing and the process.

“Would I characterize this process negatively? Yes. I’ve made no secret of that. And I don’t apologize for it, and I don’t retract it. And it’s not impugning you or any other individual to call into question that process. That’s my right as a member of this committee.”

The hearing then moved forward to the testimony of IRS officials.