GOP to Justice: Stop hiding ex-IRS lawyer

A top House Republican on Thursday accused the Justice Department of helping a former department lawyer duck an interview about the IRS’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) pressed Attorney General Eric Holder to provide contact information for Andrew Strelka to the House Oversight Committee by Friday.

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Republicans say that Strelka’s tenure with the government illustrates a conflict of interest in the Obama administration’s investigation into the IRS scandal.

Strelka once worked for Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the controversy. After moving to the Justice Department, Strelka defended the IRS against a lawsuit filed by Z Street, a pro-Israel group that said its application for tax-exempt status was singled out because it opposed President Obama’s policies.

Jordan and House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked to interview Strelka last week in a letter to Holder, but were later told that the lawyer had left the department.

Since then, Jordan says the department has declined to give Strelka’s contact information to the Oversight Committee and has reprimanded the panel for trying to get in touch with him directly.

“The department's efforts to prevent the committee from learning Mr. Strelka's whereabouts suggest that the department has cause for keeping him from speaking with the committee,” Jordan wrote.

The Ohio Republican also chided the department for what he said was shoddy cooperation with the congressional investigators, and he called on Holder again to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the agency.

Jordan sent the letter as the IRS deals with both congressional investigations and lawsuits from conservative groups.

The investigations into the IRS got new life in June when the agency acknowledged that Lerner’s emails from 2009 to 2011 had gone missing.

Jordan and other Republicans have more recently questioned why the IRS cleared all data from Lerner’s Blackberry in June 2012, around the same time the Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration began looking into the agency’s treatment of Tea Party groups.

In response to Jordan's letter, Brian Fallon, a Justice Department spokesman, said: "As the Chairman’s staff is already aware, the committee’s request to speak with Mr. Strelka is being fielded by the department. The department will be responding to the committee’s request promptly.”

A Justice official added that it was standard procedure for the department to be an intermediary for departed staffers when an interview request deals with department work, and that Issa and Jordan's original letter asking for an interview with Strelka gave Justice until Monday to respond. 

Strelka was removed from the Z Street case in July, after the National Review reported on his time spent working for Lerner.

This story was updated at 9:46 p.m.