Domestic Taxes

Dems set sights on IRS watchdog

House Democrats are setting their sights on the Treasury watchdog who investigated the IRS, questioning whether his work left gaps that helped Republicans attack the White House. 

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) released a new memo on Tuesday asserting that — despite GOP suggestions to the contrary — 15 interviews with IRS staffers and thousands of pages of documents did not show any evidence that the agency’s targeting was politically motivated or that the White House was involved. 

{mosads}Democrats had previously raised questions about the report from J. Russell George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration. A House Democratic aide said Tuesday that Republicans might have thought twice about “launching their completely unsubstantiated campaign to accuse the White House” if George had handed over all the information at his disposal.  

George and two of his staff will be able to respond to those charges before House Oversight on Thursday, after Cummings requested that George be recalled. 

“Our ultimate goal is to get the whole truth, not the one-sided, partial information and unsubstantiated accusations we have heard to date,” Cummings said in a Tuesday statement released to The Hill. 

The Tuesday memo was the latest attempt by Cummings and congressional Democrats to change the narrative on the IRS’s treatment of groups seeking tax-exempt status. 

Democrats have said that IRS watch lists have tripped up liberal groups as well, after George’s May audit found that groups with the name “Tea Party” and “Patriots” were pulled for extra attention. 

Cummings also said on Friday that George did not disclose that his staff had sifted through thousands of emails and found no evidence that partisanship played a role in the IRS’s behavior. The Friday statement added that liberal groups and outfits connected to the Occupy movement were supposed to be sent to the same IRS group that examined conservative applications for tax-exempt status.

George, nominated to his position by former President George W. Bush, was once a GOP staffer on the Oversight panel.

“I hope the inspector general will explain why he apparently did not know about some of the new documents we obtained that explicitly mention progressive groups, and why he did not tell Congress that his top investigator reviewed more than 5,000 emails from IRS employees and found absolutely no political motivation whatsoever,” Cummings said in his statement. 

Top GOP lawmakers have charged that Democrats are merely interested in shutting down the congressional inquiry into the IRS. In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, Issa called Cummings the “biggest obstruction” to the investigation.

Even in the Senate, where lawmakers have taken a more bipartisan — and quieter — approach to their examination, Republicans slammed House Democrats for trying to make George a more prominent part of the story. 

“That’s ridiculous. The guy’s a straight arrow. He was, if anything, very gracious and kind to the Democrats,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), one of the Republicans that Cummings accused of politicizing the controversy, told The Hill. “They’ll use any ploy, any approach, to get this issue off their backs. Because this is an important issue.”

Issa said Tuesday that Thursday’s hearing would showcase IRS staffers from both Cincinnati and Washington who would say that officials well beyond the front lines — like Lois Lerner, the official who first apologized for the treatment of conservative groups in May — had their fingerprints on the controversy.

The California Republican also seemed confident that George would push back on the idea that liberal organizations received the same level of scrutiny as conservative groups. A spokesman for George declined to comment, but the office has previously said it stood by its work.

“He’s going to, I believe, dispel that in no uncertain terms,” Issa said on Fox News. “That he ran a nonpartisan investigation, and what he found was the holding back of these hundreds of applications by conservative groups and not by progressive groups.” 

In the 36-page memo Cummings released Tuesday, IRS staffers say that the problems with Tea Party applications happened because employees in the Cincinnati office who processed tax-exempt applications didn’t have enough guidance and not for any political reasons.

For instance, an IRS tax law specialist working in Washington — who calls herself a Republican — said the idea that the agency was targeting President Obama’s political enemies was “laughable.” 

Six of the 15 IRS staffers interviewed by House Oversight have said they were Republican. Another of those six, a Cincinnati-based staffer, told investigators that they wouldn’t know who Obama’s political enemies were. 

George’s May audit said that his office did not report any evidence of political motivation for the IRS’s targeting. Republicans also clearly believe that the IRS issue has political legs and started pounding the issue before the inspector general’s report was officially released. 

Even as Democrats raise questions about his work, George is still playing a key role in opening additional fronts on the IRS controversy.

The inspector general told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) recently that his office found one case over the last seven years in which a political candidate or donor had their tax records purposefully and inappropriately accessed. An IRS spokesman said Tuesday that an agency employee did not commit the violation. 

Grassley is now pressing Attorney General Eric Holder over the situation, after George said the Justice Department declined to prosecute the case.

Tags Chuck Grassley Eric Holder Orrin Hatch

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