Wynton Hall, Breitbart News: In an interview with Bloomberg TV, former Obama chief of staff-turned-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew offered two conflicting yet carefully worded answers as to when he first learned that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had targeted Tea Party and conservative groups: he learned last week–and possibly before the 2012 election. Bloomberg’s Al Hunt asked Lew, whose Treasury Department oversees the IRS: “When were you first notified that IRS agents were targeting conservative groups like the Tea Party?” Instead of answering Hunt’s question directly, however, Lew instead chose to answer when he first learned about the IG report, a tactic President Barack Obama also used earlier this week during a press conference.
“I learned the substance of this report last Friday when it became a matter of public knowledge,” Lew claimed. “Before that, in mid-March , I had had a conversation, just a getting-to-know-you conversation, with the inspector general right after I started, and he went through a number of items that were matters they were working on. And the topic of a project on the 501(c)3 issue was one of the things he briefed me was ongoing.” Hunt then asked whether former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Lew’s deputy, Neal Wolin, or the general counsel knew about the IRS’s political profiling of conservative groups. “I think that there was-the heads-up that I got was something that was a matter of public knowledge,” said Lew. “It was posted on the IG’s website in the fall of 2012. I believe that other is typically the practice that an inspector general notify the agencies when matters are opened. I was not aware of any details.”
HUNT: We’re going to get to larger economic questions in a little bit, but first the IRS, which reports to Treasury. When were you first notified that IRS agents were targeting conservative groups like the Tea Party?
LEW: Al, I learned the substance of this report last Friday when it became a matter of public knowledge. Before that, in mid-March, I had had a conversation, just a getting-to-know-you conversation, with the inspector general right after I started, and he went through a number of items that were matters they were working on. And the topic of a project on the 501(c)3 issue was one of the things he briefed me was ongoing. I didn’t know any of the details of it until last Friday. When I learned about it – from the moment I learned about it, I was outraged. The secretary of the Treasury, as a citizen, it is a matter of the highest priority that the IRS be beyond suspicion in terms of its integrity.
HUNT: Did Tim Geithner or Neal Wolin or the general counsel know about it before him?
LEW: I think that there was – the heads-up that I got was something that was a matter of public knowledge. It was posted on the IG’s website in the fall of 2012. I believe that other, it is typically the practice that an inspector general notify the agencies when matters are opened. I was not aware of any details. My deputy was not aware of any details until it became a matter of public knowledge.
HUNT: And you don’t know that – and you don’t know that Geithner or Wolin or any of your predecessors – ?
LEW: Neal Wolin is my deputy.
HUNT: Right, but you don’t know if Tim Geithner was aware of it, and he was with the previous administration?
LEW: Yes. I have to assume, as I was aware of the fact of the matter being subject to a review, that’s very different from the substance of the findings. These practices -.
HUNT: Is that right? IRS reports to the Treasury. Why shouldn’t the Treasury know, “Hey, we’ve got a real problem here.”
LEW: The area of IG investigations is one where once an agency is informed that a matter is opened, the job of the agency is to give the IG access to people and records so that they can do their work. It’s not to interfere with the investigation. So typically, you don’t know a lot about -.
LEW: – an investigation until it’s nearing the end. And as it nears the end, there’s a normal process -.
HUNT: But you think everything was handled right as far as the IRS reporting to Treasury here?
LEW: I think that when – you can see from the body of the reports that the inspector general put out that the IRS responded to the issues that were shared with the IRS late in the process. I think there was a normal back-and-forth between agency and IG. The moment the IG report was public, we took immediate action. My immediate reaction was we need to restore confidence in the integrity of the IRS. Within 24 hours of the report coming out, I asked for and received the resignation of the acting commissioner. Within 24 hours, we appointed a new acting commissioner who will take over next Wednesday. He’s a person of integrity and he has the confidence of Democrats and Republicans for his professionalism. And when he begins, there are going to be three things that are on his agenda, first and foremost. One is following up on the need to hold people accountable for actions for which they should be held accountable. Second, making sure that whatever failure there was in communication or management that permitted this to happen is corrected so that it can never happen again. And third, to take a more forward-looking view, is there something systemic here that needs to be addressed – ?
HUNT: Well, they can’t -.
LEW: – in terms of the IRS.
HUNT: They can’t be -.
LEW: And if I could just finish -.
HUNT: I’m sorry.
LEW: I talked this morning with the designee – Daniel Werfel, who is going to be the new acting commissioner. And he is going to come in and get started full bore next Wednesday, and within 30 days he will report to me and we will report to the president on actions taken.
HUNT: Well, Dave Camp, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, in the Friday morning hearings said the agency is guilty of systematic abuses and there’s a culture of cover-ups at the IRS.
LEW: Al, I’ve got to tell you that I found this report very troubling. I was the one who added this issue of looking at the systemic issues because I want to know and the American people have a right to know if there are systemic problems. If there are -. I met with the IG and he raised this issue to me for the first time. What I said to him was I have always thought of auditors as partners, people to point out where there are problems and help you fix them. I want to know what’s going on, I want to support you to take actions.
HUNT: When was that meeting?
LEW: It was in mid-March.
HUNT: OK. That’s before you knew the details.
LEW: Oh, yes. But that doesn’t change – I said this in a statement the other day and it is a view I’ve felt for a long time, zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.