By Bernie Becker - 06/26/13 12:11 AM EDT
The Treasury inspector general (IG) whose report helped drive the IRS targeting controversy says it limited its examination to conservative groups because of a request from House Republicans.
A spokesman for Russell George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, said they were asked by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) “to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations.”
But top congressional Democrats have wielded new information from the IRS this week that liberal groups were also flagged for extra attention on the sorts of “be on the lookout” lists (BOLOs) that also tripped up conservative groups.
The spokesman for the Treasury inspector general noted their audit acknowledged there were other watch lists. But the spokesman added: "We did not review the use, disposition, purpose or content of the other BOLOs. That was outside the scope of our audit.”
The admission from the inspector general comes as Democrats have sharpened their criticism of George, with Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) dubbing the audit fundamentally flawed on Monday.
Levin, the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, stressed to The Hill on Tuesday that the inspector general did not say the audit was limited to Tea Party groups when it was released in mid-May.
The Michigan Democrat also maintained that the audit’s shortcoming had emboldened Republicans to try to link the targeting of Tea Party groups to the White House.
“You need to get at the facts. And those facts weren’t given to us, even when asked,” Levin said. “The Republicans used the failure of the IG to spell out what they knew as an opportunity to totally politicize this.”
Levin’s office first disclosed on Monday that the term “progressive” was also included in the lists until this year and urged the Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) to bring George back for more testimony.
And while the inspector general’s office has not said they knew about BOLOs flagging liberal groups, Ways and Means Democrats said Monday that progressive organizations were among the almost 300 groups the inspector general examined for his audit.
Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollySetting the record straight on Crimea Overnight Cybersecurity: Fallout from Yahoo's massive breach | House panel holds Clinton IT aide in contempt | Privacy groups want WhatsApp probe Oversight Committee votes to hold Clinton IT aide in contempt of Congress MORE (D-Va.), who questioned George about whether liberal groups were singled out at an Oversight hearing last month, also said Tuesday that it appears the inspector general's answers "were at best incomplete, if not misleading."
Camp and other Republicans have insisted that the evidence so far points to conservative groups receiving more scrutiny from the IRS, even if organizations across the political spectrum were on BOLOs.
Republicans at the House Oversight panel, for instance, have noted that the watch lists specifically said that Tea Party applications should be sent to Washington for examination, while the progressive entry does not.
GOP lawmakers have lobbed their own criticism at George, with Issa noting that the inspector general allowed Holly Paz, an IRS official at the center of the controversy, to sit in on interviews.
“It’s one thing to say we listed them all down,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), a senior Republican on the Oversight panel. “To me, it’s still the exact same fact. They targeted conservative groups. Some groups still haven’t had any resolution to their application for tax-exempt status.”