House Republicans opened a new front Tuesday in their examination of the IRS targeting issue, demanding work-related e-mails from the personal account of agency official Lois Lerner.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) requested the communications in a letter to Lerner, who was placed on administrative leave in May after an inspector general’s report revealed that the agency had screened groups for extra scrutiny based on their political ideology.
The congressman said investigators had discovered that Lerner, who helped oversee the exempt-organizations division that carried out the targeting efforts, sent documents relating to her official duties to a personal e-mail account labeled “Lois Home.” “This raises some serious questions concerning your use of a non-official e-mail account to conduct official business,” the letter said.
Charles Dharapak/AP – Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Camp and Boustany have also raised concerns about communications between Lerner and a Federal Election Commission attorney who was trying to determine whether a conservative group had violated campaign-finance rules. The GOP lawmakers suspect she may have fed confidential taxpayer information to the FEC lawyer.
GOP lawmakers last week accused the IRS of continued targeting after a processor acknowledged to congressional investigators that management still required him to send tea party applications for extra scrutiny. House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Charles Boustany (R-La.) sent a letter to acting IRS chief Daniel Werfel this week calling on him to issue a directive against the practice.
House Democrats said their GOP colleagues have twisted the facts and tried to build a political narrative against the IRS and the Obama administration. Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Sander Levin (D-Mich.) wrote a joint opinion piece for the Washington Post this week, saying “the facts have not stopped our Republican colleagues from lobbing baseless accusations in the cynical hope that people would believe them.”
The two Democrats, who serve as ranking members of the House Oversight and Ways and Means committees, respectively, also called on Republicans to focus on establishing clearer guidance for IRS employees to determine whether groups deserve extra scrutiny.
Last week, Levin released an extended version of the transcript excerpts from his Republican counterparts. “This particular screener is not singling out applications but rather sending all potential political advocacy cases for secondary screening out of an abundance of caution,” he said.
Below is the transcript from Levin, with earlier GOP snippets indicated by bolded italics:
COMMITTEE: Today, currently, how do you analyze advocacy cases. If, for example, Tea Party of Arkansas came in today, how would you handle it?
IRS AGENT: Well, the BOLO list doesn’t exist anymore.
IRS AGENT: If a political advocacy case came in today, I would give it — or talk about it to my manager because right now we really don’t have any direction or we haven’t had any for the last month and a half.
COMMITTEE: Yeah. If you see a case today, and there is no reference to “Tea Party,” but the applicant organization indicates in its application, the 1024, that it is going to engage in political activity, what would you do with that case?
IRS AGENT: I would send it to the secondary screening, political advocacy.
COMMITTEE: Okay. So you wouldn’t take that case to your manager, would you?
IRS AGENT: Well, I don’t know that the policy Well, if I saw one now, I would.
COMMITTEE: You would bring it to your manager?
IRS AGENT: The reason being, I would want her concurrence that this See, with the BOLO gone, I want to make sure I do the right thing when I am looking at a case. I would want to make sure that it is handled according to EO Determinations policy. Do you understand what I am trying to say?
COMMITTEE: I think what you are telling me is that out of an abundance of caution, you would bring this
IRS AGENT: Yes. Yes.
COMMITTEE: to your manager today. Okay.
COMMITTEE: If I could just follow up. So in the past when the BOLO existed, they would automatically go to Group 7822 [secondary screening group], correct?
IRS AGENT: Yes, uh huh. Prior to the 7823 being created.
COMMITTEE: Right. Replacing 7822. And now the process is sort of, as you say, out of an abundance of caution if it’s a political advocacy case, including Tea Party cases, you will take it to your manager and then your manager will say send it over to 7823. Right?
IRS AGENT: That’s correct.
COMMITTEE: If you saw — I am asking this currently, if today if a Tea Party case, a group — a case from a Tea Party group came in to your desk, you reviewed the file and there was no evidence of political activity, would you potentially approve that case? Is that something you would do?
IRS AGENT: At this point I would send it to secondary screening, political advocacy.
COMMITTEE: So you would treat a Tea Party group as a political advocacy case even if there was no evidence of political activity on the application. Is that right?
IRS AGENT: Based on my current manager’s direction, uh-huh.
COMMITTEE: Is it easy to distinguish between lobbying and political activity just sort of based on the application? Just your initial screening of an application?
IRS AGENT: It’s not real easy.
COMMITTEE: And so that’s why usually you would send that on to a secondary screening?
IRS AGENT: Yes. Advocacy.
COMMITTEE: Uh huh.
IRS AGENT: Are you talking political advocacy?
IRS AGENT: Are you talking specific to a
COMMITTEE: Not specific to a group, just in general.
IRS AGENT: It’s not an easy thing to determine.
Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.