Treasury inspector general J. Russell George, whose audit served as the foundation of the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting controversy, suggested during a congressional hearing on Thursday that he identified as a Democrat before becoming a Republican.
The IRS watchdog, a former staffer for Sen. Bob Dole who was appointed to his current position by President George W. Bush, told the House Oversight committee that he was a page for the 1980 Democratic National Convention and that he was a founder of the Howard University College Democrats during his time at the school.
“I saw the light and joined Bob Dole’s staff during college,” George said.
David Hayes, one of George’s classmates at Howard University who now clerks for a federal judge in Buffalo, confirmed in an interview with the Washington Post that George helped found the Democratic club.
The inspector general’s comments on Thursday came in response to suggestions that his audit may have been less than impartial. Democrats in recent weeks have questioned the credibility of his report, saying it focused too heavily on the IRS’s treatment of conservative groups while ignoring details about how the agency dealt with progressive organizations.
George defended his audit on Thursday, saying there was no political consideration during the process. “I think anyone who has worked with me on either side of the political spectrum will agree that I call it as I see it,” he told the committee.
House Democrats have released a list of the agency’s screening criteria and slides from a 2010 IRS “Screening Workshop,” both of which instructed agents to be on the lookout for “progressive” groups.
On Thursday, George testified that the IRS did not provide his office with those documents before he issued his report in May. “I am disturbed that these documents were not provided to our auditors at the outset, and we are currently reviewing this issue,” he said.
George’s audit found that the IRS had inappropriately targeted groups for additional scrutiny by focusing on political ideology instead of using politically neutral criteria.
Days before the inspector general’s findings were issued publicly, IRS official Lois Lerner acknowledged the agency’s mistakes and apologized for them.
“They used names like ‘tea party’ or ‘patriots,’ and they selected cases simply because the applications had those names in the title,” Lerner said during an American Bar Association conference. “That was wrong, that was absolutely incorrect, insensitive and inappropriate.”
Lerner’s comments fueled notions that the IRS’s actions applied only to conservative groups. Republicans seized on that narrative as it quickly gained traction, suggesting that the agency had systematically hindered President Obama’s opponents during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, possibly at the behest of high-ranking administration officials.
There is no evidence to date that the White House influenced the IRS’s actions. IRS employees who testified Thursday said they knew of no indication that the efforts were politically motivated.
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