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Cummings challenges Issa on IRS transcripts

The top Democrat on the House oversight committee wants to know by Monday why he should withhold congressional interviews that suggest the IRS targeting campaign originated in Cincinnati.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) last week unveiled excerpts from interviews showing that a Cincinnati IRS manager flagged the first tea party group for extra scrutiny and that an Ohio agent created the initial search criteria for filtering other cases. The congressman appears ready to reveal the full content of those discussions.

In a letter to committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Thursday, Cummings challenged Issa’s unilateral disclosures and asked him to account for every line of the interviews that he wants “withheld from the American people.” He requested a response by Monday.

Charles Dharapak/AP - Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Charles Dharapak/AP – Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

Issa has argued that releasing full transcripts could undermine the investigation. He said in a letter to Cummings last week that such disclosures could help future witnesses “devise testimony consistent with the narrative that previous witnesses presented to committee investigators.”

But Issa’s staff has already made interviews available for review by members of the media. Those disclosures pose “exactly the same risks,” according to Cummings’ letter.

“Based on the totality of your actions to date, it seems very difficult for you to argue now that releasing the full transcripts to the public will somehow compromise the integrity of the committee’s investigation,” Cummings said.

Issa’s office declined to comment on the Cummings letter.

The recent transcript disclosures from committee Republicans showed that Washington IRS officials helped guide the review process. The Cummings release revealed that a self-described “conservative Republican” in the agency’s Cincinnati office elevated the first tea party case to Washington, seeking guidance.

The disclosures from Cummings and Issa resulted in slightly competing narratives, but the story lines are not mutually exclusive. Cincinnati and Washington could both be responsible for the controversial IRS initiative, just for different aspects and phases of it.

During a talk-show appearance prior to the congressional investigation, 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.”

In his letter, Cummings said he disagrees with that notion but wants to give the chairman “appropriate deference in conducting investigations.” He added: “I believe we should proceed in a responsible manner in order to uphold the integrity of the committee.”

Cummings letter proposed that the two sides of the oversight panel start working together on disclosures from the congressional probe. “Since you have not sought my input on a protocol for how to handle the release of interview transcripts, I propose that our staffs meet to discuss a bipartisan procedure to handle these types of issues in the future,” he said.

For more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comE-mail with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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