IRS' Planted Question Adds to Its Misery

Agency tried a little trickery in its strategy of first acknowledging scandal
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2013 7:16 PM CDT

(Newser) – It probably seemed like a wise idea to the IRS at the time, but it's becoming clear that the strategy of planting a question in the apparent hope of spinning its recent scandal has, as the headline in USA Today puts it, backfired. If you missed it, outgoing chief Steven Miller confirmed in his testimony yesterday the unusual way in which the IRS first acknowledged that it targeted conservative groups: Before IRS official Lois Lerner appeared at a May 10 conference, she called Washington tax attorney Celia Roady and gave her a question to ask during the Q&A format. Roady did so, and Lerner, in her response, admitted that the IRS had inappropriately targeted Tea Party groups and apologized. The AP quickly picked up on it, and a scandal was born.

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The IRS apparently thought it would help if the story became public in this fashion rather than in the inspector general's report due out in days. Congress is ticked because Lerner had testified two days prior and didn't mention it. Even if she wasn't aware at the time, lawmakers say she or someone at the IRS should have followed up with them. Miller got grilled about it:

  • Rep. Devin Nunes: "Was Ms. Roady’s question to Ms. Lerner about targeting conservative groups planned in advance?
  • Miller: "I believe that we talked about that, yes."
Miller later said the original plan was to tell Congress and the public simultaneously, but he had to admit under questioning that "it did not happen." Read the related transcript at the Wall Street Journal. And Business Insider has Roady's statement about her role, in which she says she didn't know what Lerner was going to say. What a mess, writes William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection. "It was rotten of the IRS to have Roady ask the question. But, Roady knew that she was asking a planted question and when the bombshell answer dropped, she could have told people that it was a set-up question." (Read more Celia Roady stories.)

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