By Bernie Becker - 06/16/14 12:20 PM EDT
House Republicans on Monday made their most explicit argument to date that the IRS’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups was sparked by pressure from top Democrats.
Issa’s panel noted that Obama called out the Supreme Court’s decision in his State of the Union address in January, 2010. The next month, the report says, the IRS started taking a closer look at the initial Tea Party applications for tax-exempt status.
Later that year, Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the controversy, discussed the matter with the Justice Department, and the Oversight report says the agency was acutely aware of the news media’s coverage of so-called “dark money” groups.
“With his bully pulpit, President Obama wields the power to singlehandedly shape the national dialogue,” the 69-page report says. “In this case, President Obama’s bully pulpit led to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative tax-exempt applicants.”
The Oversight report comes just days after the IRS said that Lerner’s computer crashed several years ago, leaving them unable to reproduce many of her emails from 2009 to 2011.
GOP lawmakers were outraged over that announcement, and the IRS’s acknowledgement that it had accidentally sent Justice a database that included confidential taxpayer information.
The IRS first acknowledged that it singled out Tea Party groups more than a year ago, when Lerner publicly apologized for the agency’s actions.
Since then, the House has voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress, and several congressional committees have opened investigations into the IRS.
Democrats have long said that the IRS’s treatment of Tea Party groups was unacceptable, but have also insisted that some liberal groups received some improper scrutiny as well. Democrats have also said that there’s no evidence directly tying the White House to the IRS scrutiny.
Republicans tried to directly connect Obama to the IRS after the controversy broke, and Monday’s Oversight report shows how GOP message on the IRS has shifted over the past year.
The report asserts that Democrats have been trying to use the lack of evidence tying Obama to the IRS to downplay the controversy.
“For the public outrage to be warranted, these Democrats alluded, there must be a direct link from the Oval Office to the IRS,” the report says. “Hiding behind these straw men, the defenders of the Obama administration claimed that the absence of a direct order to target conservatives necessarily meant that there was no political element to the IRS targeting.”