By Bernie Becker - 08/02/13 05:52 PM EDT
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Friday that he would subpoena documents from the IRS over its scrutiny of Tea Party groups, accusing the agency of stonewalling its requests.
At a Friday hearing, Issa said that the IRS had been slow to give up documents to congressional committees, and that many of the materials the Oversight panel had received were unusable due to redactions.
The California Republican, in a tense exchange with the interim leader of the IRS, Danny Werfel, also said that the agency’s chief counsel’s office had been compromised and should no longer be taking part in the investigation.
“Apparently, you were put in by the administration to run cover until somebody new would come in,” Issa told Werfel, who took over the agency less than two weeks after the IRS disclosed and apologized for singling out Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status.
In a release, the Oversight panel said the subpoena to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew would seek all the emails sent and received by Lois Lerner and Holly Paz, two IRS officials who dealt with exempt organizations and are at the center of the controversy.
The IRS has said that Wilkins himself played no part in the vetting of tax-exempt applications.
In all, Oversight says, the IRS has given the committee roughly 12,500 pages out of some 64 million documents the agency originally thought to be relevant.
Around 2,500 pages of those are fully redacted, the committee says, all part of what Issa called a “systematic effort to delay, frustrate, impede, and obstruct” in a Friday letter to Lew. Camp has also complained about the pace of the IRS’s response, and also suggested the agency was obstructing the congressional investigation.
“I've asked you for information. You're not forthcoming,” Issa told Werfel. “You are leaving me no choice.”
At the hearing, Werfel responded that Issa’s accusations were both unfair and untrue.
“The notion that we're impeding or obstructing is completely false. In fact, the opposite is true,” Werfel said.
“We are involved in a thorough comprehensive effort to fully cooperate with all the congressional committees that are asking questions, asking for witnesses, asking for documents. And there's substantial facts and evidence that demonstrate our full cooperation.”
House Democrats have also said in recent weeks that the IRS also singled out progressive groups and have accused Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, Russell George, of blocking the release of documents on the agency’s treatment of liberal groups.
In a letter to Issa and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Werfel added that more than 100 IRS employees, including 70 lawyers, were working to gather and review documents, and protect any taxpayer-sensitive information. The Ways and Means and Senate Finance committee chairmen can obtain confidential taxpayer information that is not available to the Oversight panel.
The interim IRS chief added that his agency had already produced some 70,000 pages of documents in all, and said that there were far fewer than 64 million relevant pages. Werfel said the agency still needed to examine roughly 1.64 million more documents and that he expected far from all of those to be relevant.
The IRS, Werfel added, has made Wilkins available for an interview, an offer that he says the Oversight Committee declined. Six of the seven potentially relevant emails involving Wilkins that the agency found have already been sent to Oversight, Werfel said.
President Obama nominated John Koskinen on Thursday to take over for Werfel as head of the IRS.
Also on Friday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), released an interim report on their investigation into the IRS targeting, saying they were “not prepared to make any final conclusions until our investigation is completed.”
Baucus and Hatch said the panel had interviewed 14 IRS staffers and reviewed more than 21,000 pages of documents.
The two senators also chided the IRS for being slow in delivering documents, but also said that coming to a conclusion prematurely “would undermine our ability to get to the truth and effectively address the problems within the IRS that led to these abusive practices.”