WASHINGTON – A House Republican probe faults seniors IRS officials in the mistreatment of conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status, but could find no link to the White House, according to a report released Tuesday.
Although the investigative panel reviewed 1.3 million pages of documents and interviewed 52 officials, the probe continues. But the report marks the end of Rep. Darryl Issa’s tenure leading the investigation. Issa, a Republican from California, is stepping down as chairman of the House Oversight Committee because of term limits.
Issa has repeatedly clashed with the White House and congressional Democrats over the way the IRS treated tea party and other conservative groups. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, will take over the committee in January. Chaffetz has said his approach to the committee will be less confrontational.
The report does not absolve anyone from blame. Instead, it complains that the IRS and the White House have not fully co-operated with the investigation.
“The White House’s obstruction not only violated the president’s promise of co-operation, but it affected the committee’s fact-finding obligations,” the report said.
An IRS spokesman said the agency had no comment.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said Issa did not share the report with Democrats before releasing it, “bypassing the normal congressional vetting process designed to distinguish fact from fiction.”
“It is revealing that the Republicans, yet again, are leaking cherry-picked excerpts of documents to support their preconceived political narrative without allowing committee members to even see their conclusions or vote on them first,” Cummings said in a statement.
The report says conservative groups were given improper scrutiny for more than two years from 2010 to 2012. It says senior IRS officials covered up the misconduct and misled Congress about it.
The report specifically faults eight senior IRS leaders who “were in a position to prevent or to stop the IRS’s targeting of conservative applicants.”
The eight include former Commissioner Douglas Shulman, former acting Commissioner Steven Miller, and Lois Lerner, who used to head the division that processes applications for tax-exempt status.
“Each of these leaders could have and should have done more to prevent the IRS’s targeting of conservative tax-exempt applicants,” the report said.
Both Shulman and Miller told Congress last year that they first learned that conservative groups were being singled out for additional scrutiny in the spring of 2012.
They said they put a stop to it and co-operated with a review by the agency’s inspector general, who issued a report about a year later. During that year, Shulman and Miller were repeatedly asked by members of Congress about the treatment of conservative groups by the IRS. But at congressional hearings and in letters, they didn’t reveal anything.
Shulman’s term as commissioner ended before the controversy came to light in May 2013. President Barack Obama forced Miller to resign shortly after Lerner publicly acknowledged that conservative groups had been mistreated.
Lerner, who has become a central figure in several congressional investigations, was forced to retire about a year ago. She has refused to testify before Congress, though her lawyer said she has co-operated with an investigation by the Justice Department.
In a brief statement to Issa’s committee, Lerner said she had done nothing wrong.
The IRS told Congress in June that it had lost an unknown number of emails to and from Lerner when her computer hard drive crashed in 2011. The agency’s inspector general is trying to retrieve them from old computer tapes.
The IG’s office told Congress in November that investigators have retrieved some data that may contain emails, but the agency released no details.
Other Lerner emails produced by the IRS show that Lerner had discussions with Justice Department officials about concerns over tax-exempt groups getting involved in politics. But so far, investigators have not released any documents showing that anyone outside the IRS directed the agency to mistreat conservative groups or even knew it was going on.
Congressional investigators were hoping Lerner’s lost emails would shed light on the matter.
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