Issa threatens FBI with subpoenas

Anne Wernikoff

Two top House Republicans accused the FBI this week of stonewalling their investigation into the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups.

Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) say the FBI isn’t turning over requested documents, and has failed to follow through on a promised briefing.

Issa and Jordan said recent FBI actions suggest that the bureau and political appointees at the Justice Department are trying to hinder the Oversight panel’s investigation into the IRS targeting of tax-exempt groups.

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“The department's tactics have impeded a congressional investigation and interfered with the committee's access to documents and information,” Issa and Jordan wrote Monday to FBI director James Comey.

“Obstructing a congressional investigation is a crime. Making false statements to congressional staff is also a crime,” they wrote.

The FBI opened its own investigation into the IRS’s singling out of Tea Party groups in May, shortly after the agency acknowledged and apologized for its treatment of certain tax-exempt organizations.

A bureau spokesman declined to comment on the letter on Tuesday, saying the FBI would respond to the Oversight Committee in writing and that their investigation continues.

In their Monday letter, Issa and Jordan said that bureau officials had told the committee in November that a career staffer could brief Jordan about Oversight’s document requests and its questions about the FBI investigation.

But FBI staffers later backtracked after consulting with a senior political appointee at the Justice Department, Issa and Jordan say.

That “suggests that senior DOJ officials may have inappropriately interfered” and prevented the briefing, the two Republicans added.

Issa and Jordan are seeking information on any FBI meetings about a potential briefing, and documents they first requested in September. The Republicans suggested they’ll be forced to consider a subpoena if the FBI doesn’t meet its Dec. 16 deadline.

The Oversight committee chairman has already issued two subpoenas during his IRS investigation, including one sent to the Treasury Department last month. This week, Issa and Jordan also pressed the FBI again for information on the bureau’s interactions with one particular conservative group, True the Vote.

Issa and other top Republicans have tried to keep attention on the targeting issue in recent months, even as other developments — like the rollout of the healthcare law and the recent fiscal battles — have overshadowed the controversy.

Still, the IRS is likely to remain closely watched in the weeks to come, in large part because of its role in administering key planks of the Affordable Care Act.

Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration – who outlined the agency’s targeting of Tea Party groups in May – said Tuesday that tax credits created by the law for offsetting the cost of health insurance are susceptible to fraud.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is also poised to bring the IRS back to the forefront next week – holding a Tuesday nomination hearing for John Koskinen, President Obama’s choice to lead the agency.

Baucus and the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), are also still hoping to release the findings of their own investigation in the coming months.

House Democrats have insisted that the evidence shows that the White House was not involved in the targeting, and that there were no political motivations within the IRS. 

This article was updated at 5:40 p.m.