IRS head denies wrongdoing

Published: .
Updated: .

The Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the storm over the agency's targeting of conservative groups has told Congress she did nothing wrong and has invoked her constitutional right to not answer lawmakers' questions.

Lois Lerner, who heads the office that decides whether groups qualify for tax exemptions, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against incriminating herself on Wednesday. She did so as a witness before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which was holding a hearing on the IRS's inappropriate treatment of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Before refusing to answer questions, Lerner told the panel that she has done nothing wrong, broke no laws and has provided no false information to lawmakers.

Lerner revealed the agency's targeting two weeks ago and apologized for the actions.

Meantime, there was anger from protesters outside the IRS headquarters in Washington, DC and frustration inside the hearing room.

"Who did know? I mean, come on. You've read the report. You were acting commissioner, you were commissioner. Come on," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman testified under oath.

"I think I've said clearly that all of this happened on my watch," he said.

But Shulman did not fall on the sword and refused to apologize to conservative and Tea Party groups the inspector general says were improperly targeted by the IRS.

"I certainly am not personally responsible for creating a list that had inappropriate criteria on it," said Shulman.

When he did learn about the investigation last year, Shulman said he did not tell the White House.

"I don't recall telling anyone about it," he said.

His successor Steven Miller, who has resigned, made a public apology but also insisted he had not misled Congress.

"Mr. Hatch, I did not lie," Miller said to Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Sen. Hatch pushed back that the IRS should have notified Congress to correct its past denials that targeting occurred.

"That's a lie by omission. There's no question about that in my mind. It's a lie by omission," Sen. Hatch countered.

Also, IRS manager Lois Lerner's attorney wrote to the House Committee that "she has not committed any crime or made any misrepresentation but under the circumstances she has no choice but to take this course."

Lerner's attorney argued that forcing her to appear would serve "no purpose other than to embarrass or burden her."