- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

President Obama didn’t check with the Justice Department before saying there was no corruption at the IRS, the department’s deputy told Congress on Tuesday, ahead of several potential showdowns on Capitol Hill this week.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is scheduled to appear before the tax-writing committee Wednesday, where he will likely have to defend new rules clamping down on non-profit groups. And Republicans have invited a Justice Department lawyer involved in investigating the IRS to testify Thursday — though Deputy Attorney General James Cole has said he won’t allow her to appear.

Eight months after an internal auditor revealed the IRS had singled out tea party groups for special scrutiny and delayed many of their applications for tax-exempt status, the issue continues to roil Washington.

Mr. Obama inflamed matters when, in a pre-Super Bowl interview, he told Fox News that the IRS targeting was “bone-headed” but he didn’t think there was a “smidgen” of corruption in the agency’s decision-making.

Republicans demanded to know how Mr. Obama could say that unless the Justice Department has concluded its criminal investigation — but department leaders said it’s still ongoing.

On Tuesday, Mr. Cole told the House Judiciary Committee that he doesn’t know what evidence Mr. Obama is using, but that nobody from the department briefed the president.

“Generally we do not brief elected officials,” Mr. Cole said.

That left Republicans with more questions for Mr. Obama.

“How can he be so sure, when it’s an ongoing investigation?” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican and chairman of a key investigative committee looking into both the IRS and the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the agency.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama didn’t have any inside information, but rather drew his conclusions from what’s already been reported by the IRS’s internal auditors and in the press.

Democrats are increasingly pushing back against Mr. Jordan’s investigation. On Tuesday, Congressional Democrats sent a letter Tuesday complaining that the IRS’s inspector general gave a special secret briefing to Republican investigators, which the Democrats said could skew the auditor’s probe.

“These private, partisan meetings undermine your obligation as an inspector general to conduct audits and investigations in a balanced and non-partisan manner,” Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia, ranking Democrat on a key subcommittee, said in their letter to Inspector General J. Russell George.

Mr. George’s office declined to comment but Frederick Hill, a spokesman for oversight committee Republicans, said the Democrats were trying to muddle the probe, and said the latest letter was “hypocrisy.”

“As an errand runner for the Obama White House, Ranking Member Cummings often reverts to personal attacks as a distraction when a picture of inappropriate conduct within the administration emerges,” Mr. Hill said, adding that Mr. Cummings regularly communicates with the White House and other administration officials without also alerting Republicans.

On Monday, both the Mr. Cole and Mr. Cummings sent letters protesting Thursday’s hearing on the Justice Department’s criminal investigation.

The oversight committee has asked Barbara Bosserman, a lawyer involved in the investigation who is also an Obama campaign donor, to testify. But Mr. Cole said he won’t allow it, arguing it is inappropriate to give details in the middle of their investigation.

He also defended Ms. Bosserman’s role, saying that donating to Mr. Obama’s campaigns doesn’t disqualify her from being able to investigate the IRS targeting.




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