WASHINGTON, US (AFP) — Under fierce questioning by US lawmakers, the political appointee who headed the IRS during the tax agency's targeting of conservative groups, insisted Tuesday he was not involved in the scandal.
Senators grilled retired IRS boss Douglas Shulman about what he readily acknowledged was "inexcusable" behaviour by agents who, from 2010, singled out right-leaning groups for excessive scrutiny.
But while he acknowledged the targeting "happened on my watch", he told the Senate Finance Committee that "I don't believe I was aware of this" until May 2012, when a Treasury Department inspector general alerted him of the abuse.
The IRS actions have become one of a series of alleged abuses of executive power that have cast a shadow over President Barack Obama's second term, and Tuesday's hearing was not the first into the case.
Last week House lawmakers questioned outgoing IRS chief Steven Miller, who Obama had forced to resign in the wake of the revelations.
And a key figure in the controversy, director of the IRS exempt organisations division Lois Lerner, has invoked her constitutional right not to testify as scheduled yesterday before the House Oversight Committee.
Lerner's lawyer stated in a letter to the committee that Lerner "intended to invoke her 5th amendment right and refuse to answer questions", although she remained under subpoena to appear at the hearing, committee official Ali Ahmad told AFP.
Lerner sparked the scandal this month by acknowledging that the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative groups.
While Shulman insisted he was not aware of the wrongdoing early on, he said he was "dismayed" and "saddened" to learn of the abuse.
"The actions outlined in that report have justifiably led to questions about the fairness of the approach taken here."
Shulman described a vast agency tasked with overseeing tax-exempt groups and carefully scrutinising those applying for such non-profit status.