Treasury: We deferred to IRS on apology

Treasury officials were told three separate times that the IRS planned to disclose the extra scrutiny given to conservative groups, and deferred to the tax-collecting agency on each occasion, a department official says.

The Treasury Department informed the White House about two of those potential apologies, the official said, and that the department planned to defer to the IRS. The Treasury, however, did not tell the White House in advance about the last apology — tax official Lois Lerner’s disclosure of the targeting of conservative groups at a May 10 conference, which set off a firestorm of controversy.

A Treasury inspector general (IG) released a report last week that detailed the targeting of conservative groups, and White House and Treasury officials have been pressed in recent days about when they learned of the report’s findings.

“There were communications between the White House and the Treasury to understand the anticipated timing of the release of the report and the potential findings by the IG,” the Treasury official said.

IRS officials first discussed with Treasury, in late April, the idea of a speech by Lerner where she would issue an apology — an idea the official said that Treasury “expressed some concern about.”

Still, the department deferred to the IRS on that idea, and a potential apology that Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner, would potentially give as part of congressional testimony.

The timeline laid out by the Treasury official adds more to the developing picture about when key officials learned of the inspector general’s report.

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Monday that Kathryn Ruemmler, the White House counsel, learned of some findings in April and briefed chief of staff Denis McDonough and other senior staffers. But Ruemmler decided not to tell President Obama, who says he only learned of the issue after Lerner’s public disclosure.

Lerner is the head of an IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, and had found out about the targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status by mid-2011.

Miller, whom Obama forced out last week, learned about the targeting last year, and testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday in his second appearance before Congress on the issue. Lerner will make her first congressional testimony on Wednesday, before the House Oversight panel.

Miller acknowledged in testimony last week that IRS officials had discussed in advance the question that Lerner used at a conference on May 10 to disclose the extra scrutiny.