The White House never requested any secret taxpayer information from the IRS, the tax agency said in a sworn statement filed with a federal court on Friday, hoping to put to rest lingering questions about whether political operatives tried to peek at confidential records.
IRS lawyer Sarah Tate said she searched all of the likely places where such requests would have been catalogued and concluded that the White House “has never requested or received return information of any taxpayer.”
Taxpayer information is supposed to be tightly guarded by the agency, and unauthorized releases can be strictly punished under federal law.
But conservative groups had suspected a release had happened after a top White House economic official seemed to discuss the tax status of Koch Industries in 2010. They demanded the IRS disclose whether the White House had ever requested information about Koch or any other taxpayer.
The IRS’s inspector general conducted an investigation but refused to say what it found, so Cause of Action, a pressure group, filed an open-records request and eventually sued the IG and the IRS itself in 2012, demanding they release records.
A federal judge ruled that the IRS did have to search for any records, and the tax agency finally complied earlier this year, leading to Friday’s court filing.
Ms. Tate filed a sworn declaration detailing her search, which she said included all of the likely places and all of the parameters Cause of Action sought, and she came up empty.
Conservatives grew suspicious after Austan Goolsbee, who at the time was chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, appeared to describe the tax status of Koch Industries, a privately owned multibillion-dollar corporation. He said he believed Koch was treated the same as a small business.
Koch Industries said it was concerned about the remark, fearing its confidential tax information had been sought and reviewed by political appointees at the White House. The two brothers who run the company are well-known financiers of conservative causes.
The White House at the time said Mr. Goolsbee’s comment wasn’t based on inside knowledge, but lawmakers demanded the inspector general’s investigation, and conservative groups pursued their own inquiries through open-records requests.
The matter took on added urgency after the IRS admitted it targeted tea party groups for intrusive scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. No evidence links the White House to the targeting, though conservatives say Mr. Obama created the environment that allowed the targeting to happen.
Congressional Republicans are still pursuing leads in the tea party targeting case, but Friday’s court filing appears to set to rest concerns that the White House sought or was given specific taxpayer data.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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