Acting IRS administrator Danny Werfel today added fuel to Democrats’ efforts to discredit Treasury Department inspector general J. Russell George and his May report that concluded the agency inappropriately targeted tea-party groups. The Oversight Committee’s ranking member, Elijah Cummings, is charging that George improperly manipulated the investigation by concealing evidence that liberal organizations were targeted as well, and Werfel is giving him new ammunition.
In a Wednesday hearing on fraud concerns related to Obamacare, Cummings and Werfel exchanged words about the IRS investigation. George, according to Cummings, personally intervened last week to prevent the IRS from providing documents to Congress that would have demonstrated “other categories of applicants — categories in addition to the tea-party groups” received similar scrutiny. Werfel confirmed Cummings’s account. “He reached out when he learned that we were about to produce this information and expressed concern and indicated a disagreement with our internal experts on whether that information was 6103-protected or not,” Werfel said, referring to the section of the Internal Revenue Code that forbids the IRS from disclosing personal tax information. Cummings, aghast, inquired, “Has this ever to your knowledge happened before — the inspector general personally intervening to prevent disclosures to the Congress of the United States of America?”
By day’s end on Wednesday, Werfel was able to provide a definitive answer, telling the committee’s Democratic staff that George’s actions were unprecedented. ”None of the people we checked with recalled a situation where the inspector general told the IRS that a planned release of information by the IRS would constitute a section 6103 violation after IRS disclosure counsel determined that particular material was releasable to the public or to Congress under section 6103,” he said.
The “categories of applications” to which Cummings referred is unclear. The Maryland congressman has previously publicized documents delivered to him by the IRS which he claims demonstrate the agency was targeting progressive groups — chief among the evidence is a February 2012 “Be on the Lookout” list that includes Occupy Wall Street groups. He also received on June 13 an e-mail between officials in the agency’s Exempt Organizations division indicating that “ACORN successors” had appeared on a BOLO list. Congress in 2009 voted on a bipartisan basis to bar the scandal-ridden ACORN from receiving federal funds.
George on Thursday will get his first chance to respond in person to the accusations leved at him by Cummings when he appears before the Oversight Committee to testify on the targeting scandal. He will undoubtedly be in the crosshairs of the panel’s Democratic members.