Fox Manufactures White House Link To IRS Controversy
Fox News falsely claimed that a Republican-led congressional hearing showed that an Obama appointee was personally involved in the IRS' inappropriate targeting of conservative groups requesting tax-exempt status. This desperate attempt to further the right-wing narrative that the White House directed the IRS to scrutinize conservative groups was undermined by testimony from a witness and Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA).
The July 18 hearing led by Issa featured current and former Treasury and IRS employees. One of the witnesses, recently retired IRS employee Carter Hull, testified that staffers from the IRS chief counsel's office were involved in further assessing applications of groups identified as conservative that were seeking tax exempt status.
Fox & Friends co-hosts Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy claimed on July 19 that this testimony showed a link between the undue scrutinizing of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status and the White House, because the IRS chief counsel is an Obama appointee. Carlson claimed that IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins, the Obama appointee, directly reviewed Hull's work. Doocy expanded, falsely suggesting that Wilkins decided to target conservative applications, and that this may have been at the direction of someone at the White House. Co-host Brian Kilmeade added that any suggestion that Wilkins was not involved in should be viewed skeptically.
However, there is no evidence that links Wilkins to the assessment of the scrutinized applications. USA Today reported:
The IRS chief counsel, William Wilkins, is one of only two IRS officials appointed by the president. The evidence released by two congressional committees Wednesday does not prove that he had personal knowledge of the targeting of Tea Party groups but does significantly broaden the scope of IRS officials involved.
USA Today also noted that the IRS chief counsel's office is composed of 1,600 employees.
Indeed, Issa was very clear that Wilkins himself was not personally involved. In his opening statement at the hearing, he said:
ISSA: I hope that both my side of the aisle and the ranking member side of the aisle will be very careful and cautious in what we say. When I say something goes to the office of the counsel of the IRS, that is not to be construed as the office of the president, or to the counsel himself. It is important that we understand that words matter, nuances matter, and that we not go one step beyond what we know.
Hull's testimony also does not show that Wilkins was personally aware of the controversy. Hull testified that he met with staffers from the counsel's office, but made no mention of Wilkins.
The Washington Post more broadly noted that there is no evidence from the investigations and hearings about the controversy that connects the scrutinizing to the White House:
Key Republicans, including the oversight panel's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said the audit findings suggested that the IRS had systematically delayed tax-exemption applications for President Obama's opponents during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. Some GOP lawmakers suggested that high-ranking administration officials must have been involved in the alleged effort.
There has been no evidence of White House involvement.