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Cummings: Full IRS interview shows White House didn’t direct tea party targeting

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2013

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Democrats have released the entire 205-page transcript of an interview with a self-described "conservative Republican" employee in the Cincinnati office of the IRS who says he wasn't aware of any White House involvement in the targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, nor was there any political motivation in his work.

The move from ranking member Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat, comes after excerpts of transcripts suggesting a much broader role from the Washington, D.C. office of the IRS surfaced in media reports, and is likely to escalate an ongoing war of words between Mr. Cummings and Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and the panel chairman.

Click here to read the full transcript: Part 1 | Part 2

The IRS employee in question, whose name is redacted in the transcript but who has been identified as John Shafer, said an employee first tipped him off in February 2010 to a case he thought could be "high-profile" because of media attention he had seen at the time.

Mr. Shafer was asked later whether it was his impression that the case was flagged because of the worker's disagreement with the political views of the group.

"We never — never discussed any — any political, you know, personal aspirations whatsoever," Mr. Shafer said.

Asked, "Do you have any reason to believe that anyone in the White House was involved in the decision to screen Tea Party cases?" Mr. Shafer replied, "I have no reason to believe that."

Mr. Shafer was then asked, "Do you have any reason to believe that anyone in the White House was involved in the decisions to centralize the review of Tea Party cases?"

"I have no reason to believe that," he said.

Mr. Cummings, in a letter to Mr. Issa dated June 18, says that the Republican lawmaker essentially forced his hand by not meeting a deadline the Democrat gave to object to any additional portions of the transcript that should be redacted.

Mr. Cummings asked him in a June 13 letter to review the transcript and identify any additional proposed redactions by June 17.

"You did not identify any specific text you believe should be withheld for any reason, and you did not identify any text that would compromise the Committee's investigation if released," Mr. Cummings wrote Tuesday.

Mr. Issa released a statement criticizing Mr. Cummings for releasing earlier selected excerpts from the very same transcript, and said that the move could compromise the joint investigation underway by the Oversight and Government Reform and Ways and Means Committees.

"I am deeply disappointed that Ranking Member Cummings has decided to broadly disseminate and post online a 205-page transcript that will serve as a roadmap for IRS officials to navigate investigative interviews with Congress," Mr. Issa said. "His own previous release of excerpts from this very same transcript undermines his claims that the Committee is somehow trying to keep some specific revelation from public view."

As Mr. Cummings acknowledges in the letter, though, IRS employees in D.C. did play a role in the improper targeting of conservative groups.

An IRS supervisor working in Washington told congressional investigators that she personally reviewed applications from groups for tax-exempt status, in testimony that appears to show the agency's scrutiny of conservative groups extended beyond the confines of the office in Cincinnati, as administration defenders and liberals initially claimed.

Holly Paz, who was a supervisor in the Internal Revenue Service's tax-exempt status division, indicated during an interview with congressional investigators that she did review such applications, but indicated that she believed "tea party" meant political advocacy in general — not necessarily conservative groups.

But Elizabeth Hofacre, an IRS manager in the Cincinnati office in 2010, said that when she got cases of organizations that may have supported liberal or progressive causes, she "just sent those back to the specialists or the general inventory."

"I was tasked to do tea parties, and I wasn't — I wasn't equipped or set up to do anything else," Ms. Hofacre said.

Lois Lerner, director of tax-exempt organizations for the IRS, last month told the oversight committee that she had done nothing wrong, and then invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Ms. Lerner tried to stop the targeting of tea party and other right-leaning groups by directing specialists in 2011 to broaden their criteria so that it did not appear partisan, according to an audit by J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

Yet the audit says the behavior resurfaced and had to be fixed once more in May 2012.

Ms. Lerner apologized at a May event hosted by the American Bar Association for burdening the conservative groups from early 2010 to May 2012, an admission that set off a firestorm on Capitol Hill.

The announcement — staged through a prearranged question from the audience — was made days before the inspector general released the audit that critics said confirmed Republican lawmakers' suspicions in 2012 that conservative groups had been singled out to have their applications "slow-walked" or their groups' activities scrutinized more closely.

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