By Bernie Becker - 01/14/14 01:27 PM EST
The top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday slammed federal authorities for leaks he said were damaging the investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s treatment of Tea Party groups.
“How can the Department of Justice say that no charges will be filed when its investigation into the targeting of conservative groups isn’t finished?” Hatch asked in the statement.
“Discussing ongoing investigations is highly inappropriate and I would urge the Department to cease and desist from making such judgments when the public does not have the ability to look at the evidence to determine whether their conclusion is valid.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that federal authorities don’t plan to file any charges, and the criminal probe has, so far, found mismanagement at the agency — but not political targeting that violates the law.
Hatch said Tuesday the Finance Committee was continuing to work on its bipartisan investigation into the targeting, something the panel hopes to release early this year.
“The targeting of people and organizations for their political views by the Internal Revenue Service demands a fair and impartial investigation — not irresponsible leaks before the investigation is concluded,” Hatch said.
The IRS acknowledged in May 2013 that it had inappropriately singled out Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status, a controversy that led to President Obama pushing out the agency’s acting commissioner.
Democrats have said months of investigations have found no evidence of political motivation behind the targeting and complained that rules for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt groups were too hazy.
In the House, Republicans like Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) had complained about the federal criminal probe even before this week’s report.
Issa and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) have urged Attorney General Eric Holder to remove an Obama donor as lead attorney in the IRS case and said the FBI hasn’t been helpful in their own investigation.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a group representing dozens of Tea Party groups suing the federal government, also called the federal inquiry a “sham” after this week’s reports.
The group says it took the FBI until late last year to contact several of its clients.
“The American people understand what’s really going on here,” said Jay Sekulow, the group's chief counsel. “They have seen the Obama Administration — especially the DOJ — do very little to move this investigation forward.”