Democrats accuse Issa of meddling with IRS targeting probe


Cliff Owen/AP – Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
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Two top Democrats on Tuesday accused House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of orchestrating partisan meetings with the federal investigator who issued a scathing report last year on Internal Revenue Service actions.

Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) and Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), both key Democrats on the panel, issued a letter to Treasury Department inspector general Russell George alleging that he held Republican-only meetings at Issa’s request.

Issa spokeswoman Becca Watkins shot back on Tuesday, saying Cummings has excluded Republicans on the committee from communications with the White House and Obama administration officials. She said the behavior “underscore the hypocrisy of his complaints about an independent government watchdog.”

Cummings and Connolly said George met with GOP committee staff on Jan. 27 to discuss an audit relating to data-security for the IRS and the Affordable Care Act. The letter stated: “Chairman Issa’s staff forbade you from including any Democratic committee members or staff in that meeting, and your staff accepted these terms without even informing my office.”

Cummings and Connolly said also George held one-party discussions with Republicans during an audit that revealed the IRS had targeted certain advocacy groups for extra scrutiny based on their policy positions.

Democrats have questioned whether George focused only on conservative groups while ignoring treatment of progressive entities. The letter cited a report from The Hill in which the inspector general’s communications director said Issa had asked investigators to “narrowly focus on tea party organizations” during the review.

George testified in July that his spokesperson made an incorrect statement without his authorization. He also denied that Issa limited the scope of the audit to conservative groups.

MORE: Treasury official defends IRS audit

In their letter, Cummings and Connolly requested documents from the inspector general’s office relating to the statement from George’s communications director and Issa’s guidance on the IRS audit. It also asked the inspector general to avoid future meetings that would exclude Democrats, in addition to providing Democratic staff with the briefings they missed.

Issa’s office said Tuesday that Cummings, the committee’s ranking member, is using “personal attacks as a distraction when a picture of inappropriate conduct within the administration emerges.”

IRS officials have apologized for the targeting actions and attributed them to management and oversight issues, as well as staff confusion about IRS guidelines for dealing with advocacy groups that apply for tax-exempt status. The inspector general’s audit, as well as an internal review from the IRS, found no evidence of political motivations behind the screening of conservative groups.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

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.
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