By Bernie Becker - 05/20/14 05:05 PM EDT
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) issued a subpoena to the Justice Department for documents about the IRS Tea Party-targeting controversy, saying the agency was stonewalling his investigation.
Issa told Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had already blown past a May 5 deadline that the Oversight Committee had set for documents about the department’s interactions with the IRS.
“Because you have failed to comply with this request for documents and because the department has obstructed the committee's oversight, the committee has no choice but to issue a subpoena compelling your cooperation with this important matter,” Issa wrote to Holder.
Tuesday’s subpoena is at least the third Issa has issued in his yearlong investigation into the IRS, which started after former agency official Lois Lerner acknowledged and apologized for the IRS’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Issa also issued subpoenas last year to the IRS and Treasury Department, after complaining that they had also slow-walked his document request.
The interest in the Justice Department’s role came after emails released last month showed that Pilger and Lerner had discussed the chances for prosecuting tax-exempt groups that had misled authorities about their political activities.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) had broached the idea of the Obama administration looking into that possibility, in what Issa and other Republicans say is another example of Democrats pressuring the IRS to target conservative groups.
Issa said that a Justice Department lawyer didn’t allow Pilger to “to answer questions on procedural and substantive matters relevant to the committee's oversight" during the interview this month.
“The department unilaterally, and without the agreement of the committee, limited the scope of the interview to Mr. Pilger's interactions with Ms. Lerner,” he added.
The California Republican said Pilger didn’t answer questions about the Justice Department’s response to the 2010 Citizens United decision, any conversations with IRS officials since Lerner’s apology last year and how he prepared for the interview with the Oversight panel.
In the subpoena, Issa asks for documents dealing with any contact between Lerner and DOJ officials and any documents dealing with potentially prosecuting tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups for political activity.
The subpoena also comes after congressional Republicans have urged Holder to more aggressively examine the IRS’s treatment of groups seeking tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status, with lawmakers like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) calling the department’s investigation a joke.
Justice officials have said their investigation is active and ongoing.
Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee have asked DOJ to look into whether Lerner, the central figure in the IRS controversy, should be brought up on criminal charges.
The House also voted this month to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress, moving that charge to the U.S. attorney’s office, and have urged Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS.