House Democrats issued a report Tuesday saying that none of the 39 federal officials and employees who talked to congressional investigators about the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting affair provided evidence of political motivation or White House involvement in the efforts.
The minority side of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said in its analysis that the interviews instead support recent calls for clearer rules on how to deal with politically active tax-exempt groups, which were at the center of the controversy.
The Democratic report includes 54 pages of excerpts from the committee’s discussions with IRS and Treasury Department employees, saying the snippets represent all of the publicly released portions of the interviews.
“None of the 39 witnesses reported any political motivation on their part, and none of the 39 witnesses reported ever observing any other individuals involved in the screening process acting on behalf of the White House or out of any political motivation,” the report said.
Frederick Hill, a spokesman for committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), downplayed the Democratic assertions on Tuesday, saying rank-and-file employees wouldn’t have had direct knowledge of a possible White House plot.
Hill added that Republicans are now focused primarily on former IRS official Lois Lerner, who refused to testify about the controversy at two congressional hearings despite leading an IRS division at the center of the targeting efforts.
“We don’t know exactly who she was talking to and who was involved because the IRS has refused to give the committee all of her e-mails,” he said.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has said the IRS is working on the request but needs to go through Lerner’s e-mails one at a time to redact any information that could divulge private taxpayer information.
The House oversight committee voted along party lines last month to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for her refusal to testify before the panel. The full House is expected to vote on the resolution this week.
An inspector general’s report last year said the IRS inappropriately targeted nonprofit advocacy groups for extra scrutiny based on their names and policy positions. Republicans say the efforts almost exclusively affected conservative organizations, causing their tax-exemption applications to be delayed for years in some cases.
Democrats on the committee have accused Issa of releasing cherry-picked excerpts from the congressional interviews to suggest that the White House encouraged the targeting campaign as a way of stifling President Obama’s critics during the past two elections.
Issa contends that releasing the 39 interview transcripts in their entirety could compromise the integrity of the panel’s probe, saying the move would provide witnesses with a “roadmap” of the questions.
Tuesday’s report included one interview excerpt from IRS screening manager John Shafer, a self-described “conservative Republican” who told investigators: “I do not believe that the screening of these cases had anything to do other than consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development.”
Issa’s office shot back Tuesday with more excerpts, this time suggesting that Democrats tried to mislead the public with some of the transcripts they released last year.
Attorney Robert Weinberg, who represented several IRS employees involved in the interviews, interjected during one line of questioning, accusing the Democratic counsel of trying to “put words into a witness'” mouth.
“You’re trying to make them mean something other apparently — mean something other than what he’s explained he meant when he wrote [the responses],” the lawyer said.
“It’s not the appropriate purpose of a hearing,” Weinberg continued. “I realize that you got Mr. Shafer to say there was no White House involvement.”
The Democratic report calls on Issa to release the interviews with all 39 employees in their entirety to “provide the most complete account of the committee’s work.”
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