The Corner

In Effort to Halt IRS Probe, Cummings Aims Fire at Inspector General

Elijah Cummings has never been enthusiastic about the investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of tea-party groups, and in his latest broadside the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee is now accusing Treasury Department inspector general J. Russell George of botching the probe and concealing critical information from Congress. 

A TIGTA spokesman tells National Review Online, “We stand by our report and by our testimony.”

In a letter to Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa, Cummings accused George, who authored the May report concluding the IRS had used inappropriate criteria in its screening procedures, of burying evidence that the agency was also targeting liberal groups. He pointed to a PowerPoint presentation delivered in July 2010 by screening-group manager John Shafer in which Shafer directed screeners to flag the applications of “Progressive” organizations, and to a February 2010 “Be On the Lookout List” that included organizations affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Cummings’s office did not respond to a call for comment about whether any “Occupy” groups have applied for tax exemption or reported experiences similar to those of tea-party groups.

The testimony of the Cincinnati IRS official charged with coordinating the processing of tea-party applications for several months in 2010, however, contradicts Cummings’s claims about the targeting of liberal groups. Elizabeth Hofacre told congressional investigators that even if screeners did elevate the applications of progressive groups, ”I just sent those back to the specialists or the general inventory.” “I was tasked with tea parties and overwhelmed with those,” she said, adding that she had “no idea” what happened to the applications she turned back and “never” processed an application from a left-leaning organization. 

Minutes from the meeting where Shafer delivered his PowerPoint presentation, a portion of which is pictured below, may help explain the discrepancy. Though the notes do not indicate how the two groups are to be treated, they state explicitly that “‘Progressive’ applications are not considered ‘Tea Parties.’” A BOLO list used in August 2010, the month after Shafer delivered his guidance, directed screeners to accord them disparate treatment: While the term “Progressive” is listed, screeners were not given any instruction about how their applications were to be handled, whereas they were told to send tea-party applications “to group 7822” where they were “being coordinated with EOT” – that is, tax lawyers in Washington, D.C.

Cummings also accused the IRS watchdog of wrongfully omitting from his final report a note from his top investigator indicating the targeting of tea-party groups was not politically motivated. “It is unclear why Mr. George failed to disclose this significant information to Congress,” Cummings wrote. George told three congressional committees, however, that his team had found no evidence of political movation on the part of IRS agents. “It seems that there is an argument being made that there was no political motivation in these actions,” Senator Mike Crapo told him. “Is that a conclusion that you have reached?” George responded, in one instance, “In the review that we conducted thus far, Senator, that is the conclusion that we’ve reached.”

Friday’s letter is the latest effort by Democrats to defuse the scandal that has beset the IRS and the Obama administration since May — a scandal that Republicans say privately has the potential to inflict tremendous political damage on President Obama if it emerges that government officials have targeted his political opponents.

Cummings has accused the GOP of turning the investigation into a “witch hunt” against the administration and last month, over Issa’s objections, he released the full, 205-page transcript of the Oversight Committee’s interview with Shafer, arguing it showed definitively political motivation had played no role in the targeting of tea-party groups. (Shafer in fact told the committee that he had no knowledge of the personal motivations of IRS officials in Washington, D.C.)

Ways and Means Committtee ranking member Sander Levin has echoed many of Cummings’s complaints and last month received a response from the inspector general, who told him investigators found no evidence progressives were subjected to undue scrutiny. 

Issa has indicated he is not deterred by the complaints of his colleagues, announcing on Wednesday another hearing in which he will call IRS officials based in Washington, D.C., to testify. “Witnesses from both the Washington and Cincinnati offices will be asked to explain why, even as dozens of applications for progressive groups were being approved, orders from senior levels within the IRS resulted in inappropriate and disparate treatment for tea-party applications,” he said.

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