Nightly News   |  May 22, 2013

Bipartisan flogging for former IRS commissioner

Douglas Shulman insisted he was not responsible for the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups, but apologized that it had happened under his watch. Lois Lerner, head of the IRS tax-exempt unit, also appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where she took the fifth. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports.

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>>> there was palpable anger on capitol hill as several senior officials of the irs were called to testify in this growing scandal over the targeting of conservative groups for special scrutiny. it is clear this is just getting under way. we get the story tonight from nbc's kelly o'donnell.

>>> today, confrontation and public spectacle around a key irs official.

>> step back.

>> reporter: forced to appear, lois lerner took the oath and then took the 5th, her constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination.

>> i will not answer any questions or testify today.

>> reporter: lerner 's refusal to answer came after she stunned the house oversight committee by speaking out, professing her innocence.

>> i have not done anything wrong. i have not broken any laws. i have not violated any irs rules or regulations.

>> reporter: an inspector general found before the 2012 election the irs division run by lerner inappropriately picked out conservative and tea party groups applying for tax-exempt status for special scrutiny.

>> she ought to stand here and answer our questions.

>> reporter: lerner was excused and attention turned to the former irs commissioner douglas shulman who said no targeting happened, found out it had and failed to tell congress. he faced a bipartisan flogging.

>> you did nothing. you abdicated your responsibility.

>> it was your job to make sure people weren't abused. it was your job to stop abuse and also to report it.

>> reporter: shulman said he was not personally responsible but offered his first public apology.

>> i'm very sorry that this happened while i was at the internal revenue service .

>> reporter: frustrated lawmakers said the government's credibility is at stake.

>> truth and trust. we want to be able to trust the irs . but for this moment on this day we need to be able to trust your word.

>> reporter: part of the fury today, lawmakers told us they have written more than 130 letters to the irs in the last couple of years urging them to look into this. they got no information or wrong information. today the president's pick to take over the agency began his job and promises to have a comprehensive review about the irs within 30 days . brian?

>> kelly o'donnell, a busy news day in washington. kelly , thanks.