WASHINGTON -- The origins of the IRS scandal over its targeting of tea party groups aroused curiosity and suspicion from the beginning.
A senior IRS official, Lois G. Lerner, was speaking on a panel at an American Bar Association conference in a ballroom at the Grand Hyatt in Washington. She was asked a question by a member of the audience, and disclosed then that IRS agents had "used names like Tea Party or Patriots and they selected cases simply because the applications had those names in the title."
A few days ago, Kevin Williamson at National Review reported that the person who asked the question of Lerner, Celia Roady, was a tax lawyer who had served on IRS-formed advisory committees that dealt with issues of organizations applying for nonprofit status.
Williamson wrote that sources on Capitol Hill said the question was "planted" and that "the IRS has informally admitted as much."
On Friday, the acting commissioner of the IRS admitted publicly that the question was planted.
"I did talk to Lois about the possibility of ... did it make sense for us to start talking about this in public," Steven Miller, acting commissioner of the IRS, told the House Ways and Means Committee during sworn testimony.
Miller said he and Lerner discussed volunteering the information publicly "now that the [IRS inspector general's] report was finalized, now that we knew all the facts, now that we had responded in writing and everything was done."
"We talked about what would be said and how we might do it," Miller said of his conversation with Lerner.
Miller was asked by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) if he knew Roady. He said he did.
"Was Ms. Roady's question to Ms. Lerner about targeting conservative groups planned in advance?" Nunes asked.
"I believe that we talked about that, yes," Miller said.
Miller was asked later who had told Roady to ask the question of Lerner.
"I don't know," he said. "It might have been Lois Lerner."
Miller said he did not speak to Roady about the issue.
When Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) asked Miller what day he talked to Lerner, Miller said, "I'd have to look back at my notes on that, sir."
"You've got notes on that?" Roskam shot back, surprised.
"I'd have to try to find them. I'm not sure," Miller said.
"Why did you say you had notes if you don't think you have notes?" Roskam asked.
"Sir, please," Miller said.
"Please. Do you have notes or don't you have notes?" Roskam demanded.
"I don't know," Miller said.
Nunes pointed out that Lerner had testified before the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, May 8, two days before she disclosed the targeting of tea party groups, but that she "did not acknowledge this investigation."
Roskam was incredulous that Lerner had not mentioned the targeting of tea party groups during her testimony on May 8.
"Our intent was to talk to you all at the same time," Miller said.
"But that didn't happen, did it?" Roskam said.
"It did not happen, I don't believe," Miller said.
President Obama announced on Wednesday that Miller would be resigning. Miller told the committee Friday he was "asked to resign." No member of the committee asked him who had made that request.