Democrats on the House Oversight Committee have just released a full transcript of testimony from a key witness in the investigation of IRS targeting of conservatives — and it appears to confirm that the initial targeting did originate with a low-level employee in the Cincinnati office.
It also shows a key witness and IRS screening manager — a self described conservative Republican — denying any communication with the White House or senior IRS officials about the targeting.
The ranking Dem on the committee, Elijah Cummings, has promised that the account provided by the witness — the IRS manager in Cincinnati who supervised the screeners of applications for tax exempt status, the self-described conservative Republican — would undercut Committee chairman Darrell Issa’s suggestion that the decision to target conservative groups had originated in Washington.
Cummings released the full transcript today in two parts, making it initially available to a select group of reporters, with redactions of names of individuals, and accompanied it with a letter to Issa explaining his decision, in which Cummings concludes that the transcript “debunks conspiracy theories about how the IRS first started reviewing these cases.”
This comes after Cummings had previously insisted Issa release the full transcript himself, arguing it would show that the Republican chairman’s claims of White House involvement are false, and that Issa’s own selective release of testimony was misleading the public. Issa refused, insisting that releasing full transcripts would damage the investigation. Cummings then asked Issa to detail what specifically in the transcript would do this, and demanded an answer by yesterday. According to Cummings’ letter, Issa has yet to reply — hence the decision to go forward with the release today.
In the testimony, the screening manager says that he first became aware of the initial Tea Party application when an “agent who worked for me” asked for “guidance concerning a case for him.” The manager testified that in this case he agreed with the agent that “there was not enough information” to figure out whether to grant the group tax exempt status.
“I told him at that point in time I agreed with his thinking,” the manager testified, adding that he informed the agent that he would “elevate that issue to my area manager.”
“This was the first case that came in that was brought to my attention,” the manager continued.
The manager further testified that the Tea Party groups were deliberately grouped together so that they would receive consistent treatment. “There was a lot of concerns about making sure that any cases that had, you know, similar-type activities or items included, that they would be worked by the same agent or same group,” the manager testified.
In the testimony, the screening manager also flatly stated he had no reason to believe there was White House involvement. On page 141 of the testimony, this exchange occurs:
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that anyone in the White House was involved in the decision to screen Tea Party cases?
ANSWER: I have no reason to believe that.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that anyone in the White House was involved in the decision to centralize the review of Tea Party cases?
ANSWER: I have no reason to believe that.
The screening manager also testifies that he never had any conversation with Lois Lerner, the former director of the Exempt Organizations Division, or former IRS commissioner Douglas Schulman, about the “screening of Tea Party cases.”
In the letter to Issa, Cummings says the full transcripts exonerate the White House. Cummings also allows that Washington officials played a role in the story, but only in the sense that they were informed about it:
This interview transcript provides a detailed first-hand account of how these practices first originated, and it debunks conspiracy theories about how the IRS first started reviewing these cases. Answering questions from Committee staff for more than five hours, this official — who identified himself as a “conservative Republican” — denied that he or anyone on his team was directed by the White House to take these actions or that they were politically motivated. Instead, the Screening Group Manager explained that the very first case at issue in this investigation was initially flagged by one of his own screeners in February 2010. […]
To be clear, I am not suggesting that IRS employees in Washington, D.C. played no role in these activities. For example, the Inspector General has already reported that Lois Lerner, the Director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS, became aware of the use of inappropriate criteria in 2011. The Inspector General also identified a document called a “Be on The Lookout,” or BOLO, that directed IRS employees in Cincinnati to send these applications to a specific group within the Cincinnati office that was coordinating with IRS employees in the Exempt Organizations Technical Unit in Washington, D.C. According to the Inspector General, after Ms. Lerner learned of the terms used by the screeners, she immediately ordered a halt to the use of these terms, resulting in a change to the BOLO in July 2011 to apply to all organizations “involved with political, lobbying, or advocacy for exemption under 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4).”
These facts are a far cry from accusations of a conspiracy orchestrated by the White House to target the President’s political enemies. At this point in the investigation, not one witness who has appeared before the Committee has identified any involvement by any White House officials in the identification or screening of Tea Party applicants for tax exempt status, and the Committee has obtained no documents indicating any such involvement.
To be clear, I only just received these documents, so I’m not prepared to reach any definitive conclusions about their full meaning, and wanted to get them out there for readers to judge. Have at it.