J. Russell George’s May report about the IRS’s treatment of conservative groups led to public outrage, agency apologies, congressional hearings, a Justice Department probe and several dismissals, including the forced resignation of acting commissioner Steven Miller by the White House.
But Democrats are now questioning the Treasury inspector general’s audit in light of the new IRS documents, which show that terms such as “progressive,” “health care legislation” and “medical marijuana” appeared on a multipart “Be on the Lookout” list, or BOLO, that helped agents determine which groups deserved additional screening.
In a June 26 letter to the inspector general, Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) said: “There is increasing evidence that the May 14, 2013 audit was fundamentally flawed and that your handling of it has failed to meet the necessary test of objectivity and forthrightness.”
George’s spokeswoman, Karen Kraushaar, fueled that notion when she told the Hill newspaper that the office of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked the inspector general to “narrowly focus on tea party organizations.”
Issa’s office has denied it made such a request.
Kraushaar has walked back her remarks, telling The Washington Post, “The statements attributed to me in The Hill are not accurate.” She did not say the article misquoted her.
“Several members of Congress shared their concerns about tea party organizations” with the inspector general’s office, Kraushaar said in an e-mail. “However, the focus of our audit was on the IRS’s consistency in its identification and review of applications for tax-exempt status involving potential political advocacy issues.”
George, appointed to his position in 2006 by President George W. Bush, said in a letter to Levin that his office “reviewed all cases that the IRS identified as potential political cases and did not limit our audit to allegations related to the Tea Party.”
The inspector general testified before Congress last month that his office was unable to determine whether any cases in the audit involved progressive groups. He said the names “in many instances were neutral, in that you couldn’t necessarily attribute it to one particular affiliation or another.”
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), whose questioning prompted that response, said in a recent letter to George that his testimony was “at best incomplete, if not misleading.” He also suggested that George should appear again before the House Oversight Committee to “explain himself.”
There is little doubt that the IRS erred in its review of tax-exemption applications.