J. Russell George, Treasury's inspector general for tax administration, said the IRS never gave him evidence of the agency singling out "progressive" or groups with "occupy" in their names while he was working on his investigation that resulted in his May report.
The IRS gave him documented evidence that liberal groups were singled out only last week when he received minutes from a July 2010 IRS workshop in a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, D-Calif. The minutes indicate that some liberal groups' applications for tax-exempt status were sent to the same office that handled Tea Party applications.
"I am disturbed that these documents were not provided to our auditors at the outset and we are currently reviewing the issue," George said in his opening statement at Thursday's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and the ranking member of the Oversight panel, released the minutes of the workshop last week. Cummings and other Democrats have criticized George for failing to look into the targeting of liberal groups.
Republicans have said that no progressive group's tax-exempt status was denied, and none faced more than 500-plus-day delays as many of the conservative groups have experienced. Some conservative groups are still waiting for their tax-exempt approval.
George defended his work, noting that the IRS has said they had used "Tea Party" and other conservative labels to flag special scrutiny, but they were not told that other watch words for political groups were not used in a similar manner. Only seven of the 298 groups examined in George's May report had "progressive" or "progress" in their title, George said. Rep. Matthew Cartwright, D-Pa., pressed George whether the IRS had informed him verbally about some liberal watch words before Cummings released the minutes.
George acknowledged the IRS had told him that the agency had used terms like "occupy" to scrutinize groups before a May 22 Senate Finance Committee.
The admission earned a strong rebuke from Cartwright, who chastised George for not disclosing that some liberal groups had been targeted during a later hearing of the Oversight committee, even though Democrats at the time directly asked whether other types of political groups had been targeted.
"You didn't say a word about 'occupy' being on the 'Be On the Look Out' list [despite the Republicans' claims of Washington involvement in IRS targeting of conservatives']?" Cartwright asked.
George responded that he only knew that the word "occupy" was a "Be On the Look Out" watch word. He said the inspector general's office "had no information how — if at all — that information was used or misused."
As new information emerges, George said his office will continue to review whether the new information about the IRS singling out liberal groups is accurate.