Was IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins Involved in the Scandal?

by Eliana Johnson

The short answer: We simply don’t know. 

But a somewhat sensational report in the Daily Caller seems to have caused a great deal of confusion on the matter. It begins: 

The Obama appointee implicated in congressional testimony in the IRS targeting scandal met with President Obama in the White House two days before offering his colleagues a new set of advice on how to scrutinize tea party and conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

IRS chief counsel William Wilkins, who was named in House Oversight testimony by retiring IRS agent Carter Hull as one of his supervisors in the improper targeting of conservative groups, met with Obama in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on April 23, 2012.

Wilkins is one of two political appointees at the agency and a generous donor to Democratic politicians and causes. Witnessess have told congressional investigators that the chief counsel’s office — which, according to the agency, consists of 1,600 lawyers — was involved in the processing of two ”test” applications whose treatment was intended to guide how Cincinnati agents would process the bulk of the tea-party cases.

Contrary to the Caller’s account, however, neither Hull nor his colleagues implicated Wilkins personally, and Hull did not name him as a supervisor. And, contrary to the Caller’s account, we do not know that Wilkins personally offered anybody advice on how to scrutinize tea-party groups applying for tax exemption. Hull, a recently retired IRS lawyer, told Congress that in August 2011 he met with, among others, three lawyers in Wilkins’s office about the applications. National Review Online reported that those lawyers are removed from Wilkins by five levels of management. 

The chief counsel’s office was next involved with the tea-party applications on April 25, 2012, according to Treasury Department inspector general’s report issued in May. At this time, the report states, the office provided ”additional comments” on “draft guidance” that agents were to use in processing the applications. (The guidance, however, was never finalized, and according to witness testimony, one of the tea-party applications is still pending.)

Wilkins met with President Obama on April 23, two days before the guidance was provided. Whether he provided the guidance or participated in a meeting in which it was provided, we don’t know. 

That doesn’t mean Wilkins’s hands are clean in this. The IRS, in a statement, denied his involvement “in the 501(c)(4) application process” and said that he “did not learn about specific groups being singled out by name until earlier this year [2013],” but a senior GOP aide tells National Review Online that witnesses have testified Wilkins became aware of the targeting of tea-party groups at some point in 2012. So it appears he has not been forthcoming about his involvement in or knowledge of the tea-party targeting — we don’t, however, know precisely what that was at this point. 

Is there a scandal? Yes. So much so that Democrats have taken to attacking the inspector general who revealed the targeting in the first place. Some people are working hard to obfuscate the facts. But exaggerating them won’t help Congress get to the bottom of the scandal, either.

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