MSNBC host Chris Matthews said it's "not complicated" to see the IRS engaged in targeting of conservative groups, taking umbrage with the testimony by previous acting commissioner Steve Miller Friday that the agency's behavior was inappropriate but denying any political targeting took place.
Yet Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.) bought the testimony when Matthews questioned him about Friday's hearing, saying there was "terrible mismanagement" but dismissing the idea of any political motivations to the actions of the IRS. He also cited testimony by Treasury Department Inspector General J. Russell George, who merely blamed incompetence on IRS employees who targeted conservative groups applying for nonprofit status.
MATTHEWS: I don't know what I saw, but I certainly saw a disconnect today. That Mr. Miller guy, I don't know what -- it's like he didn't see what he knew people certainly right, left and center could see, that when you target particular groups, you're targeting particular groups. I mean, if this were on the other foot, and this was a George W. administration, they were targeting groups that were calling themselves progressives, I would say it's prima facie evidence of targeting. I don't think it's complicated. What's your view, Congressman?
LEVIN: My view is that the criteria were very inappropriate. There was terrible mismanagement. I think there was very terrible oversight, and there was a failure to be in touch as they should have with the Congress. But the IG, the Inspector General, when asked was there any political motivation for the people who were in the exempt organization in Cincinnati, the lower-level people who were working on this, he said no. Was there any outside influence? And he said no. So when the chairman, and I brought his language, started off his opening remarks saying it's the latest example of a culture of cover-ups in this administration, there was no evidence today to support that. It was politicization of a very, very sad chapter by people who were working and who mis-worked.
Yet, the testimony that the IRS employees only singled out conservative groups strongly suggests this went beyond incompetence, as George verified organizations were specifically targeted for certain buzzwords:
George spoke to the committee about the findings of his report, which concluded the IRS used "inappropriate criteria to target … Tea Party and other organizations based on the name and policy positions."
George told Congress that groups were singled out if their names included words such as "Tea Party," "patriot," and if their issues included "government spending," "government debt," or "taxes." Another listed criterion was "education of the public by advocacy or lobbing to ‘Make America a better place to live.’" Groups were also flagged if they had "any statements in the case of criticizing how the country is being run."
George said additional investigations were currently underway by the Inspector General office.