Two top congressional chairmen demanded Wednesday that the IRS turn over all its emails that might have given private taxpayer information to the White House, after President Obama’s lawyer last week passed the buck to the tax agency, insisting they would be able to search for the emails.
The IRS last year had claimed it didn’t have the technological ability to search for those emails, so Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan went to the White House for them. In letters last month White House lawyer W. Neil Eggleston declined, saying he was certain the IRS would be able to respond.
So the two lawmakers went back to the tax agency in a letter Wednesday, saying it’s up to them to comply.
“In light of the White House counsel’s refusal to comply with our request, we ask that you provide the documents — originally requested in April of last year — without delay,” the chairmen said.
The IRS is allowed to share private taxpayer information with the White House, but the president must personally approve the request.
The committees want to know how well that process is working, so they requested the emails as part of their oversight duties.
IRS officials didn’t respond to a message from The Washington Times seeking comment Tuesday morning, but last year Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress they couldn’t search emails of 90,000 employees to try to find those that went to or came from the White House.
Congress then asked the White House for the emails, believing the search should be easier because it’s a much smaller set of accounts. But Mr. Eggleston rejected their request, saying they should try the IRS again instead, where he said they would get a response this time.
“It is my understanding that in May 2014 Commissioner Koskinen responded to this request by indicating that the IRS would be able to address new topics such as these following its completion of document productions already in progress,” Mr. Eggleston wrote in a Feb. 17 letter. “To the extent that the committee continues to have an oversight interest in this matter, I encourage you to continue working with the IRS to address those questions.”
Recent revelations about the IRS’s failure to discover hundreds of email backup tapes may have dented Congress’s willingness to believe the IRS’s technology excuse.
The agency has been under fire for years over several scandals, including its targeting of tea party groups for politically motivated scrutiny and its illegal release of private taxpayer information concerning the National Organization for Marriage. The IRS insisted the disclosure was accidental and not politically motivated, but did pay a settlement to the organization.
Some outside pressure groups argue the IRS’s improper behavior goes further, and includes disclosing private taxpayer information to the White House. The groups point to comments by a top White House economic adviser who in 2010 said Koch Industries, the company run by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, paid no corporate income taxes.
The IRS’s inspector general investigated that issue, but has refused to release documents and currently faces a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit over the matter.
Any official requests for private taxpayer information made by the White House are supposed to be personally signed by the president, and Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation is supposed to be notified of the request. The JCT issues an annual report on all requests for IRS information, and those reports don’t show any such requests from the president during Mr. Obama’s time in office.