Members of Congress investigating the Internal Revenue Service for targeting conservative political groups said a Tuesday hearing helped to put a human face on what they claim is a flagrant abuse of the agency’s power.
The hearing, held by the House Ways and Means Committee, featured six individuals who were members of groups that claimed to have been improperly singled out for scrutiny by the IRS due to their conservative political leanings.
"To hear their stories first hand and what it meant to them and the country was very powerful," Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) told reporters afterward.
"It was important, I think, to hear personally from people who were affected and not just have a transcript of them, to actually hear what they had to say," Camp said. "I thought their voices were strong."
The hearing became emotional at times as witnesses expressed shock and outrage that the federal government would discriminate against them based on their opinions.
"I am not interested in scoring political points," Becky Gerritson, president of the Wetumpka, Ala., Tea Party told the committee as she tried to hold back tears.
"I want to protect and preserve the America that I grew up in, the America of the people who crossed oceans and risked their lives to become a part of, and I am terrified it is slipping away," Gerritson said.
Gerritson and other witnesses "are just average people, just concerned citizens who want to have a voice in this government, and they were just treated terribly," Rep. Kevin Brady (R., Texas), a member of the committee, told the Washington Free Beacon after the hearing.
"Clearly its frightening for them to be targeted by their own government," Brady said.
Some committee Democrats were less than comforting to the targets of the IRS despite the emotional testimonies. Rep. Jim McDermott (D., Wash.) suggested witnesses themselves were to blame for inviting IRS scrutiny of their organizations.
Brady, though, felt the emotional testimony from Gerritson and others helped committee members humanize the issue.
"It motivated the committee even more to a thoughtful, thorough investigation that really gets to the truth," he said.
Camp insisted that that investigation would continue to move forward.
"We’re only just beginning," he said.
"This is not just a couple of people in one office. This is a nationwide, systematic approach to targeting people with certain political beliefs," Camp told reporters.
Testimony from some of the witnesses suggested that the IRS’s Tea Party targeting was not, as the administration has repeatedly claimed, the work solely of low-level employees in the agency’s Cincinnati, Ohio, office.
Three of the witnesses said they received letters directly from IRS tax-exempt division chief Lois Lerner, who was forced to take administrative leave in May, though she continues to receive a paycheck.
"We still don’t know who initiated this, we still don’t know how high it goes," Camp said.