- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The IRS inspector general has amassed 2,500 documents detailing its own investigations into whether the tax agency gave the White House private taxpayer information, and the Obama administration agreed this week to release the documents in what an advocacy group called a major win for transparency.

Cause of Action had sought the records from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, hoping they would shed light on whether the Internal Revenue Service has ever been asked to slip private taxpayer information to the White House in violation of the law. The Obama administration had fought the request but signaled this week it was relenting and had identified thousands of documents that are “responsive” to the records request.

“Our sincere hope is the documents we get from TIGTA shed light on what was really going on with the IRS,” said Daniel Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, which sought the records under a Freedom of Information Act request and eventually went to court to force their release.

In an email this week to Cause of Action, the Justice Department proposed deadlines for turning over documents next month.

“It needs the additional two weeks to deal with the last 500 pages to determine if they are responsive and make any necessary withholdings. We would therefore like to ask the court to permit the agency to issue a response (including production) on December 1 as to any documents it has completed processing by that date, and do the same as to the remaining documents by December 15,” lawyer Yonatan Gelblum wrote.

But the big legal break came earlier this year when a federal judge ruled that TIGTA couldn’t shield the records from release by claiming taxpayer privacy. The administration had said merely acknowledging investigations publicly could mean releasing protected taxpayer data, but the judge rejected that.

It’s unclear what the records show. TIGTA investigates reports of illegal release of private taxpayer information, and Cause of Action sought TIGTA documents on those investigations.

Mr. Epstein said there is one confirmed case of an investigation, but they wanted to see if there were others that hadn’t been reported.

Mr. Epstein tied the upcoming revelations to last week’s announcement that TIGTA believes it may have recovered up to 30,000 emails the IRS said it lost when former employee Lois G. Lerner’s computer hard drive crashed in 2011. The IRS had previously said it had made extensive efforts but those emails were unrecoverable.

“This really sends the message that it’s not just a question of the IRS being incompetent, it also seems the IRS has been hiding things,” Mr. Epstein said.

The one publicly acknowledged instance of an investigation stemmed from a remark by then-White House chief economist Austan Goolsbee, who during a 2010 briefing with reporters said he thought that Koch Industries didn’t pay corporate income taxes.

Koch has been a frequent target for Democrats’ attacks, and Mr. Goolsbee’s mention prompted Capitol Hill Republicans to wonder why he was speaking about a private company’s tax status.

Analysts have debunked Mr. Goolsbee’s statement, saying Koch’s public records and company officials’ statements show it apparently has paid corporate taxes. Those analysts said it appears Mr. Goolsbee wasn’t divulging private information, but rather speculating about information.

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