The House oversight committee’s top Democrat on Tuesday released the full transcript of a congressional interview that he said “debunks conspiracy theories” about the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting controversy.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, produced an interview transcript in which Cincinnati IRS manager John Shafer said he elevated the first tea party case that led the agency to begin singling out conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
Cummings, who released partial transcripts from the interview last week, posted the full documents online despite warnings against the move by the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Issa said in a letter to Cummings that such leaks could help future witnesses “devise testimony consistent with the narrative that previous witnesses presented to committee investigators.” But the chairman’s staff had already made some of the congressional interviews available to the media at that point.
Cummings argued in a letter to Issa on Thursday that the Republican’s disclosures posed “exactly the same risk.” He also challenged the chairman to identify and justify each line from Shafer’s interview that he wanted withheld. Issa had not responded by Tuesday.
The Cincinnati manager’s name does not appear in the transcripts, but congressional sources have identified him as Shafer.
Issa said in a statement Tuesday that Cummings’s document dump will “serve as a roadmap for IRS officials to navigate investigative interviews with Congress.”
“After unsuccessfully trying to convince the American people that IRS officials in Washington did not play a role in inappropriate scrutiny of tea party groups and declaring on national television that the case of IRS targeting was ‘solved’ and Congress should ‘move on,’ this looks like flailing,” Issa said.
Shafer is a self-described “conservative Republican” who told congressional investigators that he asked Washington IRS officials for guidance with a tea party case on Feb. 25, 2010, the same date listed in an inspector general’s report as the genesis of the agency’s targeting efforts.
In a separate interview disclosed by Cummings, an IRS screener from the same office admitted to developing the controversial search criteria the agency first used to identify groups for extra scrutiny.
“These facts are a far cry from accusations of a conspiracy orchestrated by the White House to target the president’s political enemies,” Cummings said in his letter Tuesday.
Cummings has taken issue with a talk-show appearance in which Issa described the IRS effort as “targeting of the president’s political enemies effectively and lies about it during the election year, so that it wasn’t discovered until afterwards.”
Issa’s earlier transcript disclosures showed that IRS officials helped guide the application review process.
Cummings acknowledged in his letter that Washington — but not the White House — was partially responsible for the IRS controversy. “I am not suggesting that IRS employees in Washington, D.C., played no role in these activities,” he said.
Cummings noted that Lois Lerner, one of the Washington-based IRS officials who oversaw the agency’s tax-exemption division, knew about the inappropriate search criteria in 2011. He also acknowledged that other IRS officials in the capital coordinated with Cincinnati in the application review process, part of which involved improper questioning, according to the inspector general.