GOP accuses IRS of conflict of interest

House Republicans charged the IRS with a conflict of interest on Monday, insisting that a government lawyer that represented the agency previously took part in the IRS’s improper scrutiny of conservative groups. 

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At the Justice Department, Andrew Strelka represented the IRS in a lawsuit filed by Z Street, a pro-Israel group that said that the government singled out its application for tax-exempt status because its ideology was at odds with that of President Obama.

Before that, Strelka worked for the IRS’s exempt organizations (EO) division, and House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) suggested on Monday he played a role in the handling of Tea Party applications that has left the agency under siege for well over a year.

On Monday, Issa and Jordan pointed to Strelka’s role at the IRS as they once again called on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the agency.

Issa and Jordan added that Strelka’s tenure at Justice and the IRS was just the latest example of a conflict of interest in the government’s investigation of the Tea Party controversy.

Their letter to Holder comes as the IRS is facing heat from both Congress and the courts over missing emails from Lois Lerner, the former agency official at the center of the investigation.

“Perhaps new information obtained by the committee will spur you to reconsider your decision and you will finally appoint a special counsel to get to the bottom of the IRS scandal,” Issa and Jordan wrote.

Holder and other senior Justice officials have repeatedly said they don't believe the IRS investigation merits a special prosecutor. A Justice official added following Issa and Jordan's latest letter that Strelka no longer works at the department, and said the two Republicans were dredging up already released information. 

"There are no new, pertinent facts contained in these emails. Neither the fact of Mr. Strelka’s stint at the IRS nor the fact of his subsequent involvement in the Z Street case is new," the Justice official said.

For months, Republicans have slammed the Justice Department for allowing an Obama donor to play a key role in its IRS investigation, and have charged a Justice lawyer with colluding with Lerner.

On Monday, Issa and Jordan released an email from an IRS supervisor to Strelka and more than a dozen others in March 2010, asking that they “be on the lookout” for Tea Party cases.

Strelka moved to the Justice Department not long after receiving that email, but Issa and Jordan say he kept in touch with his old IRS colleagues and considered Lerner a mentor.

Strelka was eventually removed from the Z Street case in July, after media reports about his previous tenure at the IRS, but Issa and Jordan say there’s no telling how much his time working for Lerner influenced his work on the Z Street case.

Republicans noted Monday that Strelka was in such close contact with the IRS that he quickly found out about Lerner’s hard drive crash in 2011, which the IRS blames for the loss of an untold number of Lerner’s emails.

In an email released Monday, Strelka joked the crash was “probably the biggest drama in EO since the new microwave came.”

“Setting aside his levity, his e-mail confirms that months after he left the IRS, Strelka was privy to internal communications pertaining to the IRS EO division,” Issa and Jordan wrote.

The two lawmakers also asked to interview Strelka and another government lawyer, Nicole Siegel, who previously worked for a Democratic fundraiser. 

This post was last updated at 10:13 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 26.

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