The Washington Post ran a story yesterday suggesting that the IRS bowed to political pressure by investigating a Texas public interest group that crossed swords with Tom DeLay. The investigation came at the request of DeLay's crony, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), who himself was put up to making the request by a lawyer tied to DeLay's fundraising schemes.
But we think there's more to the story. In fact, there are indications that established rules to prevent political abuse of the IRS may not have been followed.
According to IRS rules, a request like Johnson's must be reviewed by a three-member panel set up to ensure that investigations are conducted for fair, nonpartisan purposes. But there doesn't appear to be any evidence that such a review ever took place.
Under the rules, the committee must keep a record of each of its decisions. As the Post reported yesterday, Texans for Public Justice Director Craig L. McDonald asked for all documents relating to his groupâs case. McDonald shared those documents with us -- and they contain no record the IRS committee had reviewed Johnsonâs letter or referred it for investigation.
In its reply to McDonald, the IRS said it had held back three pages, citing a law which allows them to withhold information if it "would seriously impair Federal tax administration." But the agency would not say what those three pages were.
We followed up with IRS spokesman Eric Smith. But we didn't get any further than McDonald.
Smith would not explain what had been withheld, or make a member of the IRS disclosure office available. (Reached independently, IRS disclosure officer Valerie Barta, whose name pops up in McDonald's IRS documents, told us she was prohibited from discussing the matter.)
We asked Smith whether a review had taken place. He would not answer directly, but said the review panel is âthe process that we use for all cases.â We again asked him to confirm it was used for Johnson's request; Smith said he was prohibited from discussing specific cases.
Is the IRS withholding evidence of what the review panel decided? Or is the evidence missing because the mandated review never took place? One way or another, why isn't any evidence of this review or reference to it included into the documents released to TPJ?
Remember, this isn't just any audit. It's one the IRS was put up to by a political ally of Tom DeLay for the pretty clear purpose of cracking down on an organization that was creating problems for the then-Majority Leader.
We can't see any reason why the IRS won't say whether they followed their own rules in this case. And if they did, why can't they provide some evidence or documentation about what the review panel decided?