WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the first time, an active Cincinnati IRS agent at the center of the agency's targeting scandal testified about it in public hearings on Capitol Hill Thursday.
Liz Hofacre, of Villa Hills, Ky., said she received her direction from Washington and she is not at all to blame for the unfair targeting of tea party groups.
Hofacre said when she heard the blame was being laid on "two rogue IRS agents" in Cincinnati, she felt like a nuclear bomb had gone off.
She told the House Oversight Committee she felt Cincinnati agents had been thrown under the bus. The Cincinnati Determinations Unit screens tax-exempt applications.
From April to October 2010, Hofacre was given the job of approving applications from tea party groups. However, when officials in Washington got involved and began slowing down the process, Hofacre says she felt frustrated and micro-managed.
"My frustration primarily was that I had to sit on them and wait on guidance from DC," she said.
Hofacre was so frustrated she requested a transfer in the fall of 2010.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan asked Hofacre if she felt she was being set up to take the fall for this scandal.
"I would agree with that," she said.
Republican lawmakers like Jordan want to know who in Washington orchestrated the targeting and why Cincinnati agents were blamed.
Jordan asked Hofacre about a question she was asked during her committee interviews.
Jordan: "Do you think the public has been purposely misled by assertions that Cincinnati was to blame?'" And your response was..."
Hofacre: "Yes, I believe so."
Here's how Hofacre responded to other questions from Jordan:
Jordan: "Tell me how you felt when Lois Lerner, with a planted question on May 10th, goes public and says this was inappropriate actions by line people in Cincinnati."
Hofacre: "Sir, like I said before it was like a nuclear strike."
Jordan: "That's a term, that's a term you used--"
Hofacre: "With the earlier interviews."
Jordan: "With your interview with staff. A 'nuclear strike.' So you would agree with Cindy Thomas, one of your bosses in Cincinnati, who said, 'People in Cincinnati felt like they were being thrown under the bus.'"
Hofacre: "I'm not sure of the context that was stated in, but literally that statement, I would agree with that."
After months of testimony, it's clear the targeting involved officials in Washington, not just the Determinations Unit downtown.
What Republicans continue to investigate is: how far up does the scandal go?
Rep. Jason Chaffetz , R-Utah, almost broke down discussing the scandal at Thursday's hearing.
"When you have the spokesperson for the President of the United States make a definitive statement that it was 'two rogue agents' and start poking at these people who have no power to do anything about it, that is wrong. How dare anyone suggest that we're at the end of this?" Chaffetz said.
The IRS delayed applications from tea party and conservative groups for as long as two or three years while most other applications were approved in a matter of weeks, an audit by IRS Inspector General J. Russell George reported.
Read Liz Hofacre's opening statement to the House Oversight Committee below or at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/729042-liz-hofacres-opening-statement-to-the-committee.html
Read more of Liz Hofacre's exchanges with Congress at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/729047-key-exchanges-between-liz-hofacre-and-congress.html
So far, Congress has interviewed 16 IRS workers from Cincinnati and Washington.
Politicians have been sparring over this scandal since it came to light in May.
Republicans are determined to show that members of the Obama Administration guided the targeting going back to 2010.
Democrats disagree about the White House's involvement and accuse the GOP of cherry-picking statements and only releasing partial quotes from IRS workers.
In prepared testimony, George said he is "disturbed" that the agency withheld newly-released documents showing progressive groups may also have been singled out for additional scrutiny.
Some Democratic lawmakers said this was proof that George's report was one-sided.
But George said Thursday only seven groups whose applications were set aside had used the words "progressive" or "progress" in their names.
George's report said
applications from 298 groups were set aside. Of those, 96 used the term "tea party," "patriots" or "9/12."
Since the revelations were made public, three congressional committees and the Justice Department launched investigations and much of the top IRS leadership - including the acting commissioner -- was replaced.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.), has requested additional documents to determine if IRS employees were discussing the 2010 election and the tax-exempt status of tea party groups on the job.
The request for new documents comes after testimony from IRS officials said Lerner, the Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations division, overruled an IRS lawyer and ordered the tea party groups to go through a multi-layer examination.
In addition to Thursday's hearing in Washington, an Ohio state House committee wants to hear from Ohioans who believe the IRS targeted them because of their political leanings.
The House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee scheduled a July 25 hearing at the University of Cincinnati. The committee stated that comments from those testifying will be submitted to Ohio's congressional delegation.
Several Ohio-based tea party groups and leaders have charged they were unfairly singled out.