J. Russell George, U.S. Treasury inspector general for tax administration, from left, Douglas Shulman, former commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS’s exempt organizations office, and Neal S. Wolin, deputy secretary of the Treasury, are sworn in during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday. (Pete Marovich/BLOOMBERG/BLOOMBERG)

REP. PAUL GOSAR: “Are you aware that in July 2012 Senator Harry Reid claimed Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes for the last 10 years and claimed to have the information supporting that? Are you aware of that? I’m sure you are.”

FORMER IRS COMMISSIONER DOUG SHULMAN: “I have a recollection of reading that in the paper.”

GOSAR: “Do you know how Mr. Reid obtained that information? Did you look into this?”

SHULMAN: “I have no idea how he...”

GOSAR: “Doesn’t that alarm you that — all of a sudden, this pertinent information comes up, you’re the head of this agency, and you’re not asking questions? Shame on you. Absolutely shame on you.”

— Exchange at House Oversight Committee hearing, May 22, 2013


 Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) brought up the question of Mitt Romney’s taxes after inquiring about two other cases involving alleged Internal Revenue Service leaks — one supposedly involving White House aide Austan Goolsbee and another involving not-for-profit journalism organization ProPublica. Former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman responded that Inspector General inquiries were launched in the first two instances, but he seemed puzzled by the Romney reference.

Small wonder. Reid’s assertion was not very credible to begin with — he earned Four Pinocchios for making an unsupported claim. Let’s quickly review the history.


The Facts

Reid took aim at Romney after the Republican nominee took the unusual step of refusing to release more than two years of his tax returns. Reid, on the floor of the Senate, charged that “the word’s out that he [Romney] hasn’t paid any taxes for 10 years.” (At other times, he asserted the period was 12 years.) Reid originally said he learned this from a person who had invested with Bain Capital, Romney’s former firm, but then he said that “a number of people” had told him this claim.

Oddly, Reid asserted that he had no obligation to offer proof for his incendiary charge. “I don’t think the burden should be on me,” he said. “The burden should be on him. He’s the one I’ve alleged has not paid any taxes.”

At the time, we consulted with a number of tax experts who said Reid’s claim was highly improbable. But he never claimed he got this from the IRS; he had cited a Bain investor — without explaining how such a person would know the details of Romney’s taxes. Indeed, one presumes if Reid had actual dirt on Romney’s taxes from the IRS, he would have released the details, rather than just wisps of rumors. (A Reid aide has denied Reid ever got his tip from the IRS.)

In any case, as Gosar should well know, Romney eventually did offer more information about his taxes. Within weeks of Reid’s claim, he released a letter from his accountants, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC, which stated that he paid both state and federal taxes every year between 1990 and 2009. “There were no years during the period in which you did not owe both federal and state income taxes,” the letter said.

Some Democrats remained skeptical, given that the letter did not include the actual tax returns and gave only broad summaries. But presumably Gosar believed the nominee of his party when Romney said Reid’s claim was bunk.

“Rep. Gosar was merely asking questions and seeking information,” said spokesman Orlando Watson. “He did not accuse  the former IRS commissioner of anything except being asleep at the wheel. Proving the congressman’s point, Mr. Shulman said he was aware of Senator Reid’s claim yet did not look into the possibility of a leak.”

Watson said Gosar was asking his questions because “we know for a fact that confidential information was released by the IRS during the election.” However, the Goolsbee incident, which turned out to be unsubstantiated, took place in 2010, while ProPublica did not print anything about the confidential documents it had received until December 2012.  (Update: Watson pointed to allegations made by the National Organization for Marriage that the IRS leaked private documents in April, 2012 to the Human Rights Campaign.)


The Pinocchio Test

This turns out to be Pinocchios inside of Pinocchios. It was bad enough when Reid made his outlandish charges during the campaign. But now Gosar has compounded the error by treating it as an accepted fact — long after it has been disproven — in order to browbeat a witness at a congressional hearing.

At the very least, he should have acknowledged that there was no truth to Reid’s charge, rather than suggesting that Reid “obtained” something legitimate from the IRS. In doing so, he indicated there was something credible about Reid’s long-debunked claims.

Four Pinocchios

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