- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The IRS employees involved in improperly targeting tea party groups vehemently denied political bias played a part in their actions, and specifically defended Lois G. Lerner, according to a report released by House Democrats on Tuesday.

The report comes just ahead of a House vote later this week on whether to hold Ms. Lerner, the former head of the Internal Revenue Service division that handled tea party applications for tax-exempt status, in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about her role.

According to the report, which includes excerpts from a number of the interviews the House Oversight Committee conducted with IRS employees, Ms. Lerner’s colleagues said she didn’t let political leanings drive their actions. They also said there weren’t any orders from higher-ups to target conservative groups.

“It is clear that there was no White House involvement or political motivation in the screening of tax exempt applicants, contrary to the accusations made by Chairman Issa before we began this investigation,” said Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee.

The report also said the committee has identified the IRS employee in Cincinnati who developed the search terms that triggered the intrusive screening. That employee says he has no political affiliation and denied that bias played a role in the IRS’s scrutiny.

Mr. Cummings released excerpts of some of the interviews, saying he had repeatedly pressed committee Chairman Darrell Issa, California Repbulican, to make them all public so people could judge for themselves what the IRS employees were saying.

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One tax law specialist interviewed by the committee said it was “laughable” that people thought the IRS was targeting President Obama’s political enemies.

“No, not at all,” said the woman, whom the report didn’t name. She said the problem was a lack of guidance to the employees.

Republicans have said IRS employees were responding to requests from Democratic members of Congress and taking their lead from Mr. Obama’s criticism of tea party groups following the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court case, when the agency began subjecting tea party applications to special scrutiny.

In emails she sent during her time at the IRS Ms. Lerner, who retired in September, seemed to signal a deep discontent with how tea party groups were using nonprofit status in the wake of the Citizens United decision.

But after nearly a year of investigating, Mr. Cummings said Republicans have found no clear evidence that politics played a role. He said none of the 39 witnesses interviewed, who identified themselves as Republicans, Democrats, independents and apolitical, reported political motivations.

Republicans, though, said Democratic investigators coached the witnesses during the interviews.

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They pointed to one lawyer, Robert Weinberg, who represented several IRS employees and at one point said Democratic lawyers were trying “to put words” into a witness’s mouth.

“You know, that’s not a fair way to treat a witness,” Mr. Weinberg told the Democratic investigator at one point, according to testimony excerpts.

House Republicans have scheduled two votes this week on the IRS targeting investigation. One would officially find Ms. Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify, and would refer her case to the Justice Department for action.

The other is a non-binding resolution asking the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to look into whether the IRS broke any laws with its targeting.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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