Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday warned top officials at the Internal Revenue Service that criminal laws on false statements could come into play in a Justice Department investigation on the agency’s targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Appearing at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Holder said the investigation would examine whether groups of individuals had their civil rights criminally violated and whether statutes governing I.R.S. conduct were violated. After repeated accusations from senior lawmakers that top I.R.S. officials had lied to them, Mr. Holder also issued a warning: “False-statement violations might have been made, given at least what I know at this point.” Three Congressional committees already have hearings planned to investigate the agency’s activities, and an early focus appears to be on whether I.R.S. officials lied to members of Congress.
Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California and the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has a hearing scheduled for next Wednesday, and Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, sent a nine-page letter accusing Lois Lerner, the head of the I.R.S.’s division on tax-exempt organizations, of providing false or misleading information to the committee four times in 2012 as the scope of the targeting effort became clear ahead of the presidential election.
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which also has opened an investigation, said he was “purposely misled” by the acting I.R.S. commissioner, Steven Miller, when he and other Republican senators were told that no targeting of conservative groups had taken place.
Ahead of a public hearing on Friday with Mr. Miller, the bipartisan leadership of the House Ways and Means Committee requested all I.R.S. documents on the targeting of conservative organizations. Mr. Miller met privately with Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, as four Republican senators, including the top two leaders, demanded his resignation.