Top Dem: IRS inspector general withheld information from Oversight panel

The investigator who found the IRS targeted conservative groups withheld key information from Congress, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee charged Friday. 

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) says Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, Russell George, failed to disclose that his staff found no evidence of political motivation in scrutiny the IRS gave to some groups seeking tax exempt status even after sifting through thousands of emails of IRS employees. 

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Cummings also says that newly discovered documents show that liberal groups and organizations related to the Occupy movement were supposed to be sent to the same section at the IRS that examined Tea Party applications. George wrote to two Democratic lawmakers in recent weeks that conservative groups were more likely to be specially examined for political activity than liberal groups.

The Maryland Democrat, in a letter to House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) dated Friday, asks for George to testify before the panel again at a previously scheduled hearing next week, and again charges that Republicans have turned the congressional investigation into the IRS into a partisan escapade.

The investigation, Cummings wrote, “has been characterized by one-sided and partial information leading to unsubstantiated accusations with no basis in fact.” The Oversight panel’s top Democrat asks Issa for a response to his request by Monday.

“Given the new documents obtained by the Committee — and the serious questions they raise about the Inspector General’s report, his testimony before Congress, and his subsequent assertions in letters to Members of Congress — I believe it is necessary to call him back before the Committee to explain why he failed to disclose this critical information,” Cummings added. “Without this explanation, the entire premise of next Thursday’s hearing will be called into question.”

In response, a spokesperson for the Treasury IG said officials "stand by our findings and testimony.”

Cummings’s letter comes as much of the congressional inquiry into the IRS’s actions has gone behind closed doors, even as GOP lawmakers have made clear that they plan to target the agency’s purse strings in the coming months.

Republicans have also stressed that all the evidence so far points to conservative groups being treated more harshly than anyone else, and a spokesman for Issa said Cummings’s latest letter does nothing to disprove that.

Ali Ahmad, the spokesman, said documents cited in Cummings’s letter “refute misleading attempts to equate routine scrutiny of other groups involved in advocacy to the systematic scrutiny of Tea Party groups by IRS officials.”

“As has been documented, while 100 percent of Tea Party applications were systematically stopped and scrutinized for a 27 month period, at the same time dozens of progressive applications were approved by the IRS,” Ahmad added.

Cummings’s letter cites an email from a deputy inspector general that says that some 5,500 emails sent by IRS officials showed they more confused about how to process tax-exempt applications for potential political organizations than motivated by partisanship.

“This is a very important nuance,” the deputy inspector general says.

The Maryland Democrat also noted that an IRS training session called for sending both progressive and Tea Party applications to the same group that works out of Cincinnati. As Issa's office stresses, minutes from those meetings also say that "'progressive' applications are not considered 'Tea Parties.' " Issa has released partial transcripts that assert that IRS officials in Washington were particularly interested in Tea Party applications.

Separately, Cummings says that an IRS “be on the lookout,” or BOLO, list from February 2012 instructs employees to watch out for Occupy groups, which the list says claim “social injustices due to 'big money' influence, claim the democratic process is controlled by Wall Street/banks/multinational corporations, could be linked globally.”

Finally, Cummings charges that George has personally intervened to stop the Oversight panel from receiving certain documents – possibly, Cummings says, “to prevent the disclosure of relevant information that could raise further questions about the reliability of his report and testimony.”

George’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the inspector general did tell Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, that “we found no indication” that progressives “was a term used to refer cases for scrutiny for political campaign intervention.”

Levin and other Ways and Means Democrats have also called for George, who has testified at least four separate times about the targeting and other IRS controversies in recent months, to be recalled.

Cummings’s letter, and that response from Ways and Means Democrats, shows that the congressional inquiry into the targeting has also become increasingly muddled in recent weeks, after lawmakers from both parties initially sharply criticized the IRS’s behavior.

Starting last month, Levin and other Democrats waved around new information that showed that IRS watch lists also searched for liberal groups, and that more than small-government groups received the invasive questioning outlined in George’s audit.

Congressional Republicans have also made clear that they still see the IRS as a potent political issue. House GOP appropriators have pushed forward a spending bill that slashes IRS funding by some $3 billion, after the agency’s new management had pressed for an extra $1 billion.

House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorBottom line Meet Trump's most trusted pollsters Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington MORE (R-Va.) has also said that he plans votes on a series of IRS-related measures in the coming weeks, including one that would allow taxpayers to record conversations with federal enforcement officers.

— This story was updated at 11 a.m.