House Republicans are resigned to the fact that the investigation into the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups has gone underground.
Investigators have found little so far that links the IRS’s behavior to the White House or political appointees in the Treasury Department, five weeks after the agency first disclosed that it had singled out Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status.
But Republicans caution that the congressional inquiry — happening in both chambers, and with input from both parties — is still in its early stages, with the IRS already having said that it’s gathered the equivalent of 64 million pages worth of documents.
“We knew that there was going to be a time when we would not put any new information out there,” said Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles William BoustanyFormer lawmakers call on leadership to focus on unity Partial disengagement based on democratic characteristics: A new era of US-China economic relations Lobbying world MORE (R-La.), who heads the Ways and Means investigations subcommittee. “I wouldn’t even describe it as a lull in the process. I would just say that without new information to reveal out to the media, it seems quiet.”
The GOP response comes as a variety of new developments — including leaks on classified National Security Agency initiatives and confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria — are pushing the IRS controversy to the sidelines of news coverage.
Still, Republicans say lots of work is going on, even if it’s not happening in the hearing room. They said their IRS investigation could easily pop in and out of the news in the coming months, much like their examination into last year’s attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Bipartisan investigators from House Oversight and House Ways and Means into the IRS have already interviewed IRS officials from both Washington and the Cincinnati office that deals with tax-exempt applications.
According to a source close to the investigation, House investigators sat down on Friday with Carter Hull, a Washington-based lawyer for the IRS who an Ohio staffer said was heavily involved in dealing with Tea Party applications.
“We’re in the grunt work phase of it right now,” said Rep. James Lankford (Okla.), a member of both the Oversight panel and the House GOP leadership team.
Top GOP lawmakers say anger at the IRS remains strong, both from voters and members who believe that former agency officials were less than forthcoming with Congress in their public testimony. Republicans are also frustrated that the IRS has missed deadlines for requested documents.
House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) stressed on Friday that the IRS targeting spreads beyond just tax-exempt applications, to the gift tax and the leaking of conservative groups’ confidential documents.
“I’m pretty angry about this, and I’m not going to stop until I find out what the truth is,” Camp said Friday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
Senate Finance Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBiden nominates Nicholas Burns as ambassador to China Cryptocurrency industry lobbies Washington for 'regulatory clarity' Bottom line MORE (D-Mont.), appearing with Camp on Friday, said his chamber was pressing ahead as well. “We both agree: We’re going to get the facts here,” Baucus said. “And we’re still in the middle of that right now. Both of us are.”
But much of the attention on the IRS investigation this week has centered on the quarrel between House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), over whether to release full transcripts of interviews with IRS officials.
Both lawmakers have released their own set of partial transcripts, which Issa said showed the targeting started in Washington, contrary to the Obama administration’s assertions.
Cummings says the transcripts actually showed that Cincinnati staffers first flagged Tea Party applications, and has repeatedly stressed that nothing in the House’s investigation has tied the targeting to the White House.
Cummings is pressing Issa to release full transcripts, which Issa says would jeopardize the investigations.
Boustany has said that he doesn’t think any of the transcripts should have been released yet, though both he and Camp have said they don’t think the targeting originated in Ohio.
Still, even after his back-and-forth with Issa, Cummings says he doesn’t see interest in the IRS investigation fading. “Not at all,” the Maryland Democrat told The Hill.
In fact, Baucus and Camp, whose panels have jurisdiction over the tax code, said the investigation could find that the IRS needs to be restructured, and Camp said he believes the inquiry will spark legislation. Both Camp and Baucus are pressing to rewrite the tax code.
Republicans have also said the targeting illustrated broader problems within the Obama administration.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who has been central to the IRS probe, argued Friday that the increased attention on the NSA hammers home the same message as the IRS controversy — that the government is too large and intrusive, and should be curtailed.
“All of these issues are important and they all tie together,” he said. “It’s all part of the same thing: look what your government is doing to your civil rights.”
Lankford put another twist on that point, saying the IRS controversy would plant some doubts in people who would otherwise trust the government on national security issues.
“In the moment of national security when you need some trust to say your government really is looking out for your best interests here, you don’t have any to draw from,” Lankford said.
Jordan also compared the IRS inquiry to the Benghazi investigation, noting that it took eight months to get a key figure on the ground in Libya, Greg Hicks, to testify.
“You’ve got to set people down, and you’ve got to ask them the questions, and that’s where we’re at,” Jordan said. “It’s going to take a while.”