Claims that the IRS controversy can be blamed on staffers in a Cincinnati office are "absurd," House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Thursday.
Issa said Thursday's hearing on the IRS controversy would definitively show that Washington officials were deeply involved in the targeting of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status.
He faulted the White House for casting blame on the Cincinnati staffers, saying that claim would be “debunked” at the hearing, where Elizabeth Hofacre, an Ohio-based staffer who dealt with tax-exempt applications, and Carter Hull, a D.C.-based tax law specialist, are testifying.
“Washington made a catastrophic mistake” in dealing with the Tea Party applications, Issa said.
But Issa also struck a conciliatory tone in his opening statement, after the partisan rancor had ramped up between Republicans and Democrats on the Oversight panel in recent days.
Issa said references to Washington shouldn’t be construed to mean the White House, and that references to the IRS chief counsel would refer to the full office — not just the Obama appointee at its head.
“It is important that we understand that words matter, that nuances matter,” Issa said.
GOP lawmakers released new information on Wednesday that asserted that Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the controversy, and the IRS chief counsel’s office had taken a unique interest in the Tea Party cases.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the panel, repeated his recent accusations that Republicans had tried to overly politicize the targeting controversy and to tie it to the White House.
Both Hofacre and Hull told the committee that they didn’t know of any political motivation behind the singling out of groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Hofacre said that she faced delays from Washington in processing the tax-exempt applications. Hull, who had been working with Hofacre on applications, said that he had been ready to say that one Tea Party application could be approved and one declined, but was told by higher-ups that more information was needed.