Unpacking Darrell Issa’s Latest IRS Claims


Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, went on CNN on Sunday to tout new testimony given by IRS employees in Cincinnati to congressional investigators.The testimony, Issa said, undercuts the Obama administration’s version of the IRS scandal. The IRS has conceded that conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status had their applications innappriopriately screened and handled. But the IRS has denied there was any partisan political motivation for singling out those groups. The inspector general report that set off the scandal did not find evidence of any political motivation for the additional scrutiny.

“The reason that Lois Lerner tried to take the Fifth, is not because there’s a rogue [agent] in Cincinnati,” Issa said. “It’s because this is a problem that was coordinated, in all likelihood, right out of Washington headquarters, and we’re getting to proving it. We have 18 more transcribed interviews to do.”

But CNN host Candy Crowley wasn’t convinced.

“As yet, you don’t have that direct link,” Crowley said. “You have the frontline agents going, ‘yeah, I mean, we figured it was from Washington, I believe it was.’ But as of yet you don’t have that definitive, ‘Yeah, this guy called me and said, people, go look for Tea Party and patriot applications.'”

In response, Issa hedged. The “whole truth” would come out eventually, he said.

“Well, the President’s spokesperson is saying whatever’s convenient at the time, and the story changes,” Issa said. “What we have are people coming in to transcribed interviews — they’re saying under penalty of crimes that certain things are true. We have subpoenaed documents that would support that, that they say e-mails went back and forth. The administration so far is not providing those documents. As we get those documents — as we will get Fast and Furious documents, eventually, and so on — we will learn the whole truth.”

To back up Issa’s claims, the House Oversight Committee on Sunday released the transcribed interview exerpts the congressman and Crowley referred to. It is not clear whether the samples — and samples is what they are, a few hundred words taken from what were apparently hours-long interviews — differ from the facts contained in the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report. Take, for example, this question and answer sequence:

Q: But just to be clear, she told you the specific names of these applicants.

A: Yes.
Q: And she told you that Washington, D.C. had requested these two specific applications be sent to D.C.

A: Yes, or parts of them.

In a vacuum, this sounds bad. Why was Washington asking about tax-exempt status applications? But the transcript doesn’t tell you that the “technical unit” of the IRS division that handled applications for tax-exempt status was located in — wait for it — Washington D.C.

A timeline included in the IG’s report last month detailed many interactions between the “technical unit,” in Washington, and the “determinations unit,” in Cincinnati. And, in fact, the same timeline includes the description of a situation very much like the one described above. In mid-March 2010, the timeline says, “The Acting Manager, Technical Unit, requested two more cases be transferred to Washington, D.C.”

That said, we don’t yet know what the full interviews show. The House Oversight Committee’s press office did not immediately respond to TPM’s question about when the full transcripts would be available.

Toward the end of the interview on Sunday, Crowley asked Issa what he felt in his “gut.” In his reply, Issa stopped short of ascribing motives to IRS officials, but said that he believed “too many people knew that this wrongdoing was going on before the election.”

“Now, I’m not making any allegations as to motive, that they set out to do it,” Issa said. “But certainly people knew it was happening that could have done something and would have done something, I’m sure, if these had been progressive groups or groups that supported the President. That’s what I think we know.”