By Peter Schroeder - 04/09/14 04:40 PM EDT
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) accused his Democratic counterpart of hiding inquiries his staff made to the IRS about a specific conservative group.
Issa said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the panel, never told him about inquiries his staff made to the IRS about a conservative group that also claimed to be unfairly targeted by the agency.
“New IRS documents identified by the committee raise disturbing concerns about your possible motivations for opposing this investigation and unwillingness to lend your support,” he wrote in a letter sent to Cummings.
In a response, Cummings said the claims had "no merit and no basis in fact." He defended his inquiries as completely legitimate, and said that he made no attempt to hide those efforts.
Issa’s questions come one day before the Oversight panel is set to vote on whether to hold Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the controversy, in contempt for refusing to answer questions from lawmakers.
Emails recently obtained by Issa’s staff show Cummings's staff asked the IRS in January 2013 for publicly available information about the group. It was Lerner herself, in her capacity as director of the exempt organizations division, who followed up on information requests from Cummings’s staff. Holly Paz, an IRS official placed on administrative leave for her role in the controversy, informed staff that the group had not been granted tax-exempt status.
According to Issa, Cumming’s staff reached out to True the Vote beginning in October 2012. In the last several years, Democrats have sought to scrutinize groups that may have been improperly engaging in political activity while seeking a tax-exempt status from the IRS.
True the Vote bills itself as a group devoted to sniffing out voter fraud, but Democrats have criticized it as trying to purge voters from registration rolls in an effort to swing elections.
In the October letter, Cummings accused the group of challenging the registration of thousands of legitimate voters, and demanded information about the group’s operations and practices.
But Issa said there are a number of similarities between Cummings’s requests and those the group received from the IRS. For example, both asked for information about the group’s training, computer usage and jurisdictions where the group has challenged voter registrations.
Issa claimed that the overlap “raises concerns” that the IRS improperly shared information with Democratic staff. He noted that Cummings’s staff and the IRS sometimes asked True the Vote for information within days of each other.
However, there is nothing in the recently released documents from Issa that shows direct collaboration between Cummings and the IRS.
—This post was updated at 5:01 pm.