By Bernie Becker - 05/16/13 05:41 PM EDT
“We are aware of no legal authority that would permit the IRS to disclose applications for tax-exempt status that are still under review by the IRS,” the senators added.
Top Republicans like Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have said that criminal violations could have occurred in the IRS case, and some GOP lawmakers have been weighing whether to call for a special prosecutor.
President Obama said Thursday that he did not believe a special prosecutor was necessary.
Attorneys have also told The Hill that disclosing private taxpayer information would be the most obvious way the IRS could have broken the law, though those lawyers also stressed that the government would have a difficult time building a criminal case.
The Treasury inspector general’s report released this week found that ineffective management at the agency led to the extra scrutiny given to Tea Party groups, including the request of information like donor lists and the political ambitions of group leaders.
Crossroads GPS, the group linked to Karl Rove, was among the groups that had their pending applications for 501(c)(4) status given to ProPublica. 501(c)(4) is a designation reserved for social welfare groups, but the IRS has also said those groups can allocate a minority of their work to politics. Those groups also don’t have to disclose their donors, making the status even more attractive to groups looking to play a role in elections.
In their letter to the inspector general, the Republican also question whether the IRS wrongly released confidential donor information about the National Organization for Marriage. That group, which opposes same-sex marriage, has said it plans to sue the IRS.
The GOP lawmakers also ask the inspector general to look into which IRS employees played a role in giving documents to ProPublica, whether any staffers were disciplined and whether the agency has taken any steps to ensure that sort of disclosure is not repeated.