How Republicans Will Tie Obama to the IRS Scandal

Shane Goldmacher

So far, President Obama's inner circle has yet to be directly implicated in the controversy surrounding the Internal Revenue Service's selective targeting of tea party groups for special scrutiny.

But a top Republican leading the charge into what went wrong at the tax-collecting agency offered a peek into the playbook for how Republicans hope to tie the president to the scandal on Friday.

It centers on what William Wilkins, the chief counsel of the IRS, knew and when he knew it. The chief counsel is one of only two political appointees at the sprawling agency. 

Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., the chairman of the oversight subcommittee of House Ways and Means, didn't name Wilkins during a Friday appearance on C-SPAN's Washington Journal. But he did say "what did the chief counsel know" is a crucial question.

Why? Because the IRS' chief counsel, Boustany said, reports to the chief counsel of Treasury. And that would bring the scandal one important step closer to the White House.

In the report that has set off the firestorm, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration said that a meeting was held on August, 4 2011 with the chief counsel "so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue."

While that would suggest that Wilkins learned early on about the targeting of conservative groups, the IRS has tried to quash that idea. In a statement released earlier this week, the IRS said that Wilkins "did not participate in any Aug. 4, 2011 meeting," which instead "involved staff attorneys several layers below Wilkins."

The former Treasury general counsel at the time, George Madison, meanwhile, told the Wall Street Journal that he didn't learned about the targeting while in office.

Still, Republicans remain unsatisfied. At the start of Friday's hearing, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., insisted that acting IRS commissioner Stephen Miller take a formal oath to tell the truth because the panel had been "so repeatedly misled" by the tax authorities.

Camp said one of his top questions was: "Who started the targeting, who knew, when did they know and how high did it go?"

If Republicans are to link President Obama to the scandal, the IRS' chief counsel will have to be at the center of those questions.