- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2013

As Republicans press their investigation into the Internal Revenue Service, Democrats are trying to turn the focus to the Republican ties of the agency’s chief investigator, Inspector General J. Russell George, whose May audit ignited the firestorm.

Late last week, House Democrats charged that some of Mr. George’s work has been “highly misleading,” and they demanded that the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has been taking the lead in investigating the IRS, call back the inspector general not just as an investigator, but as the target of lawmakers’ inquiry.

“The committee has obtained new documents that raise serious questions about the inspector general’s report, his testimony before Congress, and his subsequent assertions in letters to members of Congress,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, said Friday in a letter to committee Chairman Darrel E. Issa, California Republican, demanding that Republicans call Mr. George to reappear before the panel.

The moves put more scrutiny on Mr. George, whose official title is Treasury inspector general for tax administration. He served as an aide to Sen. Bob Dole, Kansas Republican, and President George H.W. Bush before President George W. Bush tapped him in 2002 to serve as inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service and to his current post in 2004.

Those Republican ties have Democrats questioning whether Mr. George is serving as an honest broker in his investigations.

“This is a Republican-appointed inspector general. This is someone who has donated and worked for prominent Republicans. Are we as Democrats and the public to believe that he is objective and simply followed the truth where it leads?” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, a Virginia Democrat on the oversight panel who questioned Mr. George during a May 22 hearing.

“What is troubling to us on our side of the aisle is are these dots to be connected?” Mr. Connolly said. “Here is a former Republican subcommittee staff director who is meeting with the current chairman of our committee to plan the examination of something that has serious political ramifications.”

The most recent questions about Mr. George arose after he said the IRS issued a “be on the lookout” order to employees scrutinizing applications for tax-exempt status to watch for progressive groups, in addition to the extra scrutiny they were giving conservative groups.

Democrats seized on that as evidence that the special scrutiny wasn’t politically motivated. But Mr. George then released a letter saying that while some groups with progressive names or the word “occupy” in their names were targeted, 100 percent of groups with “tea party,” “9/12” or “patriot” in their names were pulled out for scrutiny.

That follow-up letter angered Democrats who said Mr. George was withholding information.

In his letter, Mr. Cummings said he has documents that show omissions in Mr. George’s testimony, including that his top investigator combed through 5,500 emails from IRS employees and found “no indication that pulling these selected applications was politically motivated.”

Democrats said the documents appear to contradict Mr. George’s claim that the IRS did not target groups with “progressive” in their name.

“This new information underscores the fact that the Treasury inspector general’s audit was fundamentally flawed and created widespread misperceptions that Republicans seized on in an effort to attack the White House,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat. “It is now all the more important that Inspector General George return to Congress to explain his glaring omissions and reasons for releasing a highly misleading report.”

Mr. Issa’s office countered that Mr. Cummings and other Democrats are engaging in “misleading attempts to equate routine scrutiny of other groups involved in advocacy to the systematic scrutiny of tea party groups by IRS officials.”

Former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginia Republican who chaired the House oversight committee from 2003 to 2007, said there is no evidence that Mr. George has done anything but act objectively.

“I know Russell George, and I don’t see any partisan bones in his body on this stuff,” Mr. Davis said. “This guy is a straight shooter. He is a Harvard Law School graduate. I think he calls balls and strikes straight down the middle.”

Mr. Davis said Democrats appear to be under orders to “attack the attackers” and should focus instead on preventing such actions.

“What the IRS has done is indefensible, and what they ought to be doing is making sure that this doesn’t happen because if it happens to conservative groups it could happen to liberal groups, and that is why it is important that they stamp this out and not put a partisan spin on it.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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