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Minnesota Congressman Erik Paulsen Previews Friday’s Ways And Means Hearing On The IRS Scandal

Thursday, May 16, 2013

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HH: Joined now by another member of the House Ways And Means Committee, Erik Paulsen, who will have the Inspector General of the Department of the Treasury in front of him on Friday. And of course, the President made his announcement about outrage and sweeping changes, but Erik Paulsen, Friday is going to matter a great deal. How are the members of the committee preparing for this?

EP: Well, Hugh, I will tell you that the members are preparing. This is part of our duty. I mean, Congress works on legislation, but we also work on oversight. And we are going to begin to peel back the onion to get the facts so that we know if there was intentional misleading. The groups that were targeted, this is part of a culture of discrimination, I think, that we’ve seen a pattern here, and who knew what and who directed this activity, and does it go all the way to higher levels in Washington. And I think we’re at the tip of the iceberg here, and we’re going to really begin to peel back the onion and make sure we’re doing it in a thoughtful way. But I don’t think this is going to be the first and only hearing.

HH: Now I have spent time with Mitch McConnell and Rob Portman today. A little bit later, I’m going to talk with Devin Nunes about this. And the same, the IG’s report is at the center of my inquiry. It’s a terrible report. It’s a whitewash. You can’t really learn much from it. What was your reaction to the report?

EP: You know, my reaction is if you gave the report a grade, you’d give it a C or D. Clearly, there is a lot of missing information. It doesn’t answer the real questions. And that’s where I think it’s going to be our obligation to get the facts, fill in all the gaps, and we’re going to be asking things, you know, what has been transpiring over the last two years, because that’s how long we’ve been inquiring about this. And so I don’t think this is the first hearing. Well, this will be the first hearing. It’s not going to be the last hearing. And so you’ve got an IRS that’s failed to act in a fair, nonpartisan, nondiscriminatory manner, and that should give cause to every American for right reasons.

HH: Now my colleague at Townhall.com, Carl Platt Liebau, former managing editor of the Harvard Law Review, former staffer to Kit Bond, very smart attorney and columnist, did a review of this IG report in which she lists, I hope you have a chance to read it before Friday, 27 different sets of inquiries on this. You guys could spend a week on hearings on this. How are you dividing up so we…last week, your colleagues on Oversight and Governmental Reform did a fine, fine job in Benghazi.

EP: Correct.

HH: Are Ways And Means members going to be as disciplined and as careful to make sure that the witness gets the chance to answer specific pointed questions?

EP: Oh, I believe we really will. We will be very disciplined. This is going to be carried out on Friday. I also think the Government Oversight Committee is also going to be moving forward with its own hearings or further investigation as well, but this does fall within the purview of Ways And Means. And look, I mean, we’ve got the ability to put, potentially, put folks that are coming to testify under oath. And we’re going to take this very seriously. And I think, I mean, look, the agency is supposed to be independent in every respect of the word, in essence, but it’s not, clearly. And the administration is not owning up to take responsibility. And this is, these are appointments that are made by the President. So he can’t just wash his hands, and you know, there needs to be accountability. And we need to find out exactly who and what knew when, so we can make sure appropriate action is taken.

HH: Do you think his announcement of changes at the IRS today is going to in any way deter you from doing a full and deep investigation of who did what, when, and for what reasons?

EP: It is not going to deter us doing a full investigation. If anything, I think the administration, and that quite honestly, the Democrats in Congress, recognize that this is a problematic issue for them. And they would like to, they’d like to see it end within the 24 hour news cycle. That’s not going to be the case, because I think as we’ve seen with the pattern of this administration on some other issues, as the Benghazi issue came forward last week under really good hearings, this may just be the tip of the iceberg.

HH: Now Erik Paulsen, you and a number of your colleagues are too young to remember the summer of ’73. I was in high school, but we watched, transfixed, the Watergate hearings as they unfolded. And they had a pace and a precision, and they developed a culture of inquiry. Can that happen, because these days, under the pressure of social media, and under the pressure of Facebook, Congress tends to pick up one thing and put it down, pick up and put it down, and it gets scattered. This is very complicated, what goes on, and the acronyms are endless, and the IRS is scary to many people. Are you guys going to follow through?

EP: We are going to follow through, and we’re taking this very seriously. And again, the hearing that was scheduled for Friday, I mean, normally, you always give a seven day notice, but the reality is that the Democratic leadership on the Committee also signed off on calling this hearing as quick as possible. And so again, we want to make sure this is done thoughtful, and it’s not just going to be brushed aside in a short news cycle, and we’re not going to get distracted by extraneous issues. But you know, look, the IRS is the tip of the iceberg in terms of having new oversight over Obamacare, for instance, and it just begs the question not only for the need for tax reform, but for what this agency should be authorized to do, knowing they’re also going to be looking at the health care of all Americans.

HH: I also want to ask you, last week, Benghazi hearing was a revelation. I believe deeply we need a special committee on Benghazi and Boston, because I mean, Darrell’s committee is just overwhelmed with 25 different things to do. And you folks have tax reform, the medical device tax repeal. You’ve got all sorts of stuff going on. Is there movement towards a special committee on Benghazi?

EP: We had an update on this yesterday when we came in with our whip team at the beginning of the week. And Darrell Issa gave us a synopsis of his hearings last week, and Chairman Issa’s initial, and I tend to agree right now that we shouldn’t close the door to a special committee being formed, an investigatory committee being formed for this. But he did point out that if we had moved in the direction of a special committee being formed, we likely would not have had those whistleblowers move forward in the time and in the manner that they had moved forward. And so I’m just trusting his instincts on that right now, because that was a pretty powerful hearing, and there may be more whistleblowers coming forward based on the evidence of what was released in the hearing last week.

HH: Well, I have great confidence in him, but I also know his jurisdiction stops at some areas.

EP: Correct.

HH: And that is the problem, is that the American people are going to be confused over who’s doing what, especially if Ways And Means and Oversight duel over the IRS scandal. And this one, probably for some people, is more important than Benghazi. Not for me. I think Benghazi is the most important one. But this one, this scares people? Have you heard from your constituents, by the way?

EP: Oh, absolutely.

HH: What do you hear from them?

EP: I’ve just heard about the anger and the outrage. I mean, this is unconscionable. I mean, to target Americans, you know, the IRS should be looking at what the practices are for any organization that wants to file, business practices, etc. But this is outside of those bounds in every manner and respect possible. And if they’re targeting conservative donors as they have in the past, now they’re targeting conservative organization, it’s a systematic pattern, and it’s part of a culture, really, of discrimination of what we can see right now.

HH: You know, I’m going up to Minnesota on May 28th, two weeks today, to do a big town hall with the Powerline guys and Mitch Berg…

EP: Sure.

HH: …and James Lileks, and we’re going to get many hundreds of people out to that. And I just don’t know how to even set up the agenda for this. And by the way, if you’re in town, come by and see us and join us in that conversation. But it must be difficult to figure out what to stay focused on, and you still have this medical device tax repeal, for which you have enormous momentum.

EP: Right, well, and it’s one of the challenges, being in Congress, we run at a thousand miles an hour every day, and then you feel like you didn’t get anywhere, right? And this is why it is very important for us to be disciplined, and this is one of our chief obligations, is oversight. And I think there are 31 oversight committee hearings that are being held this week. If the Republicans didn’t have the House, we would not be having this oversight. And so we’re making progress on it, and it’s just that accountability measure that I think my constituents are demanding and asking for. And I come from a district that actually voted for the President, but they want that accountability.

HH: Congressman Erik Paulsen, Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional district, thanks for talking to me.

End of interview.

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