House Democrats are demanding answers from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration about its report on the Internal Revenue Service’s screening of tax-exempt groups, demanding to know why some newly uncovered documents were left out of the report.
The report, which provoked a firestorm of outrage among conservatives and led to the resignations of a number of top IRS officials and a shake-up in the ranks of the Exempt Organizations unit, found that IRS officials had used Be on the Lookout, or BOLO, lists to screen out applications from “Tea Party” and “Patriot” groups for extra scrutiny. IRS principal deputy commissioner Danny Werfel, who was brought in to head the agency after the hastened departure of acting commissioner Steven T. Miller, has outlined a series of changes the IRS will make to address the problems in its process for reviewing applications for tax-exempt status (see IRS Outlines Steps to Fix Problems with Tax-Exempt Applications).
However, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is one of a number of committees that have been holding hearings on this and other recent controversies at the IRS, has uncovered documents showing that the IRS also screened out other types of groups using BOLO lists, including groups on the liberal side of the political spectrum. Committee Democrats have complained that the Inspector General’s report ignored the scrutiny of liberal groups. TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George has countered that his office was only asked by Congress to examine how the IRS dealt with applications from Tea Party groups, and that it found “Tea Party” groups more likely than self-identified “progressive” groups to be subjected to extra scrutiny (see Tea Party Groups More Likely than Progressives for IRS Look).
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has been battling with committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., over the release of documents related to the probe (see Lawmakers Trade Jabs over IRS Accusations). On Friday, he sent a letter to Issa asking him to recall J. Russell George to answer questions before committee members at a hearing scheduled for next Thursday on the IRS’s review of applications for tax-exempt status.
Cummings’s letter questions why the Inspector General failed to disclose information contained in several documents that have now been obtained by the committee and that appear to directly contradict his report, his previous testimony before Congress, and his subsequent assertions in letters to members of Congress. Committee Democrats have suggested in previous hearings that George may be politically biased, pointing to the fact that he was appointed as head of TIGTA by President George W. Bush. But George has been widely credited with running the Inspector General’s office with independence and objectivity. While he has acknowledged he is a Republican, he has also spoken of briefly dating First Lady Michelle Obama back when they attended Harvard Law School in the 1980s.
Cummings released new documents in the IRS probe Friday, including an email in which TIGTA’s Deputy Inspector for Investigations specifically said there was no evidence of political motivation in the screening of tax-exempt applications, and a PowerPoint document instructing IRS screeners on how to screen applications for tax-exempt status, which includes a reference to “Progressive” groups along with “Tea Party” groups and others.
“New documents obtained by the Committee indicate that Mr. George did not disclose to the Committee—either in his report or during his testimony—that he met personally with his top investigator and tasked him to conduct a review of 5,500 emails of IRS employees, and that this official concluded after this review that there was ‘no indication that pulling these selected applications was politically motivated’—a fact this official reported was ‘very important,’” Cummings wrote in his letter to Issa “New documents also indicate that all references to work conducted by this official and his team of investigators were scrubbed from an earlier draft of the Inspector General’s report.”
Cummings noted that the committee has obtained an email sent from TIGTA’s Deputy Inspector General for Investigations on May 3, 2013, explaining that George met with him personally and tasked the Office of Investigations with reviewing the emails of multiple IRS employees to determine whether there was any evidence that IRS officials directed staff to “target” Tea Party organizations.
“As a result of our meeting with Russell a couple of weeks ago, we agreed to pull e-mails from identified staff members of the EO organization in Cincinnati to find out 1). If an e-mail existed that directed the staff to “target” Tea Party and other political organizations and 2). If there was a conspiracy or effort to hide e-mails about the alleged directive,” the official wrote. “Audit provided us with a list of employees in question, key word search terms and a timeframe for the e-mails. We pulled the available IRS e-mails, which resulted in 5,500 responsive e-mails. Review of these e-mails revealed that there was a lot of discussion between the employees on how to process the Tea Party and other political organization applications. There was a Be On the Lookout (BOLO) list specifically naming these groups; however, the e-mails indicated the organizations needed to be pulled because the IRS employees were not sure how to process them, not because they wanted to stall or hinder the application. There was no indication that pulling these selected applications was politically motivated. The e-mail traffic indicated there were unclear processing directions and the group wanted to make sure they had guidance on processing the applications so they pulled them. This is a very important nuance.”
The Deputy Inspector General for Investigations sent the email less than three weeks before the Committee’s hearing on May 22, 2013, to multiple officials in the Inspector General’s office, Cummings pointed out.
“New documents obtained by the Committee also indicate that all references to the work conducted by the Office of Investigations were removed from an earlier draft of Mr. George’s report,” Cummings added. “For example, a draft prepared on April 12, 2013, stated that ‘we requested assistance from our Office of Investigations in the matter.’ That reference and others were removed from the final version of the report. It is unclear why Mr. George failed to disclose this significant information to Congress, particularly since the investigative work requested by Mr. George was completed before he issued his final report and testified before our Committee; since Mr. George’s top investigator believed these findings were significant; and since these facts directly contradict numerous public accusations by congressional Republicans that the White House and other Administration officials targeted Tea Party organizations for partisan political reasons.”
Cummings noted that new documents obtained by the committee indicated that George did not disclose to the committee, or was completely unaware of, documents directing IRS employees how to review and process applications for tax exempt status from “Progressive” groups alongside “Tea Party” and “9/12 Project” groups. Cummings said George also did not disclose to his committee that the IRS office in Cincinnati had added a new entry to its BOLO document on Jan. 25, 2012, directing the staff to forward applications from groups associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement to Group 7822, the same group in the Cincinnati office that was designated to handle Tea Party applicants.
Cummings noted that the committee has now obtained a BOLO dated Feb. 8, 2012, that includes an entry for “‘Occupy’ Organizations” that was opened on Jan. 25, 2012. This BOLO describes the criteria for these groups as follows: “Involve organizations occupying public space protesting in various cities, call people to assemble (people’s assemblies) claiming social injustices due to ‘big money’ influence, claim the democratic process is controlled by wall street/banks/multinational corporations, could be linked globally. Claim to represent 99% of the public that are interested in separating money from politics and improving the infrastructure to fix everything from healthcare to the economy.’
Another of the documents obtained by the committee was a PowerPoint presentation for an IRS meeting describing how to handle applications for tax-exempt status from groups that might be engaged in political activities. The first page of this PowerPoint in the section on “Current Activities” contains a picture of both an elephant and a donkey, Cummings pointed out. The second and third pages in this section included references to “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” and “9/12 Project.” The fourth page in this section includes a reference to “Progressive.” The PowerPoint then explains that “Most will file as IRC 501(c)(4)” and lists as a specific concern that they “May be more than 50% political, possible PAC (Political Action Committee).”
The minutes from this meeting also explained that applications from “Progressive” groups should be sent to Group 7822, the same group in the IRS office in Cincinnati that was designated to handle Tea Party applicants.
Cummings also charged that new documents obtained by his committee indicated that other categories of organizations were specifically named in the BOLOs and that George had recently intervened personally to prevent additional relevant information from being disclosed to the committee.
“It is my understanding that the IRS was prepared to produce documents to the Committee this week that include references to additional categories of groups that IRS career staff determined would comply with Section 6103,” he wrote. “It is also my understanding that Mr. George personally intervened in that production, objecting to the disclosure of that information. The Inspector General’s office has criminal enforcement authority for violations of Section 6103. If this is accurate, it appears that Mr. George may be attempting to overrule the legal determinations of career IRS staff in order to prevent the disclosure of relevant information that could raise further questions about the reliability of his report and testimony.”
Cummings complained to Issa that the investigation, has been “characterized by one-sided and partial information leading to unsubstantiated accusations with no basis in fact. You did not consult with me before asking Mr. George to undertake his review, and Mr. George did not provide me with copies of his subsequent correspondence with you. In addition, Democratic staff were not invited to meetings your staff had with Mr. George’s staff to discuss the scope of his work. 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. Without this explanation, the entire premise of next Thursday’s hearing will be called into question.”