When Republicans launched their investigation of the so-called IRS targeting scandal, they relied on one key official to lead the charge—Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA.
Mr. George was a holdover chosen by President George W. Bush who served previously as the Republican staff director of a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on which I serve as Ranking Member.
Mr. George conducted an extensive investigation to determine whether IRS employees intentionally targeted conservative-leaning applicants for tax-exempt status for political reasons. His staff interviewed more than 100 witnesses, searched tens of thousands of documents, and even had emails restored from backup tapes. Mr. George spent more than $2 million on his investigation.
What is so often missed in today’s coverage of this issue is that Mr. George—after his exhaustive multi-year investigation—identified absolutely no evidence that anyone at the IRS targeted any conservative groups for political reasons.
Testifying before two different committees in May 2013—three years ago this week—Mr. George agreed that there was “no evidence that IRS employees were politically motivated in their creation or use of the inappropriate screening criteria.”
Mr. George’s findings were confirmed by the Oversight Committee itself. In June 2013, an IRS screening manager who worked directly on these cases—and who described himself as a “conservative Republican”—strongly objected to any suggestion that he or his team unfairly targeted conservative groups.
Faced with these stark facts, some Republicans turned their sights on John Koskinen, who had reluctantly agreed to come out of retirement to lead the IRS in 2013—after any targeting was alleged to have occurred.
These Republicans tried to impeach the Commissioner, accusing him of obstructing their partisan investigation and destroying emails from IRS employees that Republicans claim were the smoking gun they were hunting for.
The problem is that the same Inspector General, Mr. George, investigated these claims as well, and he found nothing to substantiate them either.
In July 2015, Mr. George reported that two low-level employees working in West Virginia erased email back-up tapes so they could be re-used and did not understand or follow instructions from IRS headquarters to preserve them.
With respect to Republican claims that the Commissioner directed these actions or was personally involved, Mr. George reported: “No evidence was uncovered that any IRS employees had been directed to destroy or hide information from Congress, the DOJ, or TIGTA.”
If that weren’t clear enough, he also reported that his investigation “did not uncover evidence that the IRS and its employees purposely erased the tapes in order to conceal responsive e-mails from the Congress, the DOJ or TIGTA,” and he identified “no evidence that the IRS employees involved intended to destroy the data on the tapes or the hard drives in order to keep this information from Congress, the DOJ or TIGTA.”
Career investigators at the Department of Justice agreed, reporting that they too “found no evidence that any official involved in the handling of the tax-exempt applications or IRS leadership attempted to obstruct justice.” They interviewed more than 100 witnesses and reviewed nearly 500 tax-exempt applications.
Perhaps these hard facts explain why House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to Donald Trump On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection MORE refused to allow any impeachment resolution against the Commissioner to come to the floor.
Not to be deterred, Oversight Committee Republicans and Freedom Caucus Members are now regrouping and trying again, claiming that the Commissioner somehow obstructed their investigation. They want to publicly censure him—and go after his pension. They will make their presentation today to the Judiciary Committee.
The problem again is Mr. George, who testified before Congress on June 25, 2015, that Commissioner Koskinen has been “extraordinarily cooperative” with this investigation.
So the question for Republicans is, where is Mr. George? Why haven’t they invited him to testify? Could it be because he found nothing to substantiate their baseless claims?
Commissioner Koskinen has been the single most cooperative agency head to appear before the Oversight Committee. His agency has produced more than a million pages of documents, and he has testified personally before Congress more than 20 times—offering repeatedly to testify himself in place of lower-level employees.
Yet, after holding more than two dozen hearings, squandering more than $20 million, and turning up nothing, Republicans are still hell-bent on pressing forward with this seemingly endless attack against a widely-respected public servant.
Surely, we have more important things to do here in Congress.
Rep. Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th congressional district.