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“The law governing how you must respond to congressional inquiries requires you to tell not only the truth, but to tell the whole truth,” Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said at the Ways and Means hearing.
What the IRS did was wrong, Miller said, but it did not “target” conservative groups because it was never motivated by political concerns, only a desire to process applications more quickly and efficiently.
Adding to the frustration of lawmakers was the fact that Lerner acknowledged IRS mistakes at a tax conference on May 10 in response to a planted question, rather than first contact members of Congress who had been trying to get answers from the agency for years.
As the Justice Department conducts its own investigation into the IRS controversy, IRS officials have reason to choose their words carefully.
Laws against misleading Congress are “sweeping,” said Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Columbia University Law School.
Still, “professional prosecutors know they have to exercise real care and judgment in venturing into the area,” Richman said. “It can easily get out of hand with criminal cases being used or perceived as tools of the political process.”
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said last week that the Justice Department would take “a dispassionate view” of the IRS case.
“Anyone who has broken the law will be held accountable,” he said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, learned about the audit in advance in late April but did not tell the president about it because there was nothing to be done at that point.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.