Senate Republicans on Thursday asked President Obama to turn over all communications he and his aides have had with the IRS since 2010, hoping to find out whether the tax collection agency shared private taxpayer information with political operatives at the White House.
The request, made in a letter obtained by The Washington Times, is signed by Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch and all 13 other Republicans on the committee, and is addressed specifically to Mr. Obama, saying they want to see if his employees broke the law by acquiring or sharing private information.
“We have an obligation to conduct oversight of the federal government’s administration of our tax laws,” the lawmakers wrote. “As part of this oversight, we are seeking to determine the degree to and manner in which the Internal Revenue Service shares taxpayer information with the Executive Office of the President.”
The Republicans said they tried to get the information from the IRS, but it has been “unable to provide a full accounting of its employees’ communications with the White House.” The GOP senators gave the president a Feb. 20 deadline.
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The IRS is strictly prohibited from sharing confidential taxpayer information with outsiders, though several high-profile conservative figures have said they believe their information was improperly accessed or shared.
In one instance, the IRS agreed to pay $50,000 to the National Organization for Marriage to settle claims after the agency said an employee made a mistake in releasing the group’s donor information to a citizen who requested it. The information was passed to a gay-rights group that posted the donors’ names online. A federal judge ruled the disclosure was an accident.
House Republicans have launched several investigations of the IRS in the wake of the agency’s 2013 admission that it improperly targeted tea party groups for special scrutiny, blocking approval of their applications for tax-exempt status.
The Senate, then controlled by Democrats, had been slower in its investigation. But with Republicans now in control, Thursday’s letter suggests the Senate probe into IRS treatment of taxpayers could pick up.
Outside groups already have tried to get a look at the communications between the White House and the IRS, though they have largely been unsuccessful.
Cause of Action, an interest group, has gone to court to try to compel the IRS’ inspector general to turn over documents it has stemming from its investigation into White House-IRS communications. The inspector general says it has 2,500 pages of records from its investigation but can’t turn most of them over, saying it would violate the privacy of taxpayers involved.
It’s unclear whether those 2,500 pages would show any evidence of White House meddling with the tax agency.
Also Thursday, the GOP senators on the Finance Committee sent a letter to the IRS telling the agency to cut wasteful spending and use the savings to boost the number of taxpayers’ calls it will answer this year.
The IRS, blaming budget cuts, has said it could end up answering only about half of the calls that come in during the upcoming tax season, and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said it could be “miserable” for taxpayers who might see their refunds delayed by a week or more.
Republican senators, though, said the IRS could cut the amount of salaries paid to employees conducting union business on “official time,” could cancel bonuses and could halt its efforts to come up with new regulations to control nonprofit groups’ political activities.