New documents are raising questions about when senior Treasury Department officials, including deputy treasury secretary Neal Wolin and even former treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, learned about the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of tea-party groups. They suggest top brass at the Treasury Department may have been aware of the scandal in spring of 2012, a year before it became public.
An e-mail uncovered in the course of the House Oversight Committee’s investigation into the scandal shows that Treasury Department inspector general J. Russell George was briefed by his staff in preparation for a “Secretary’s meeting” that was to take place at the Treasury Department on June 4, 2012. The briefing notes sent to George by a member of his staff read, “We obtained documentation indicating that certain organizations’ applications for tax-exempt status were targeted by the Exempt Organizations Determination office based on the organizations’ name or political beliefs. Additional audit work is needed to determine the extent, if any, of inconsistent treatment of these organizations’ applications for 501(c)(4) status.” Another document indicates that George briefed Treasury Department general counsel Christopher Meade the same day.
It is unclear if either Geithner or Wolin were present at the June 4, 2012, meeting. It does not appear on Geithner’s public schedule for the day (see below). In May, George described the secretary’s meetings to the committee this way: “The secretary holds a monthly meeting with bureau heads and in conjunction with those meetings, I meet monthly with the general counsel of the Department of the Treasury and then on an as-needed basis with the deputy secretary, Mr. Wolin.” George said that he told Wolin about the scandal “shortly” after he briefed Meade, but could not recall the precise day. Wolin has testified that he was made aware of an audit of “the IRS’s review of tax-exempt organizations” in 2012. George’s testimony is consistent with Wolin’s statement: He told Congress he informed the deputy treasury secretary and the department’s general counsel only about “the nature of the audit,” though the notes prepared for him by his staff go into further detail.
The documents also show that former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman knew more about the scandal than he has previously disclosed. On May 30, 2012, according to a timeline from the inspector general’s office, Shulman learned that ”criteria targeting ‘tea party,’ ‘patriots,’ or ‘9/12′” as well as “educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights” were being used in reviewing applications for tax-exempt status.
Shulman told Congress in March 2012 that no targeting was taking place. Asked why he did not approach lawmakers to correct the record, he said, “What I knew sometime in the spring of 2012 was that there was a list who was being used, [I] knew that the word ‘tea party’ was on the list” but ”didn’t know what other words were on the list” or “the scope and severity” of the problem.
On the basis of the newly discovered documents, Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa and subcommittee chairman Jim Jordan are demanding all Treasury Department documents and communication “referring or relating to the IRS’s misconduct.” In a letter to treasury secretary Jack Lew on Thursday, they wrote, “This information raises serious questions about the awareness of the Treasury Department in the IRS’s mistreatment of tax-exempt applications.” Issa and Jordan are reiterating a previous request to Lew with which the treasury secretary has yet to comply. The department, they said, “has produced only about 350 pages of responsive documents and did not provide any responses to several of our requests.”
UPDATE: A public schedule provided by the Treasury Department shows that former treasury secretary Timothy Geithner did not attend the June 4, 2012 meeting.