June 11 (Bloomberg) -- Releasing the transcripts of interviews with Internal Revenue Service workers who scrutinized Tea Party groups would be reckless, the chairman of the U.S. House Oversight Committee wrote today.
“Your push to release entire transcripts from witness interviews while the investigation remains active was reckless and threatened to undermine the integrity of the committee’s investigation,” chairman Darrell Issa, a Republican, wrote to Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat.
Cummings has said he will release transcripts of interviews with IRS employees by the end of this week if Issa won’t. Cummings said that in one interview, a self-identified “conservative Republican” said the effort to scrutinize Tea Party groups was done to ensure consistency and that there wasn’t White House or political involvement.
The committee is one of six congressional panels probing the IRS. The agency’s inspector general and the Justice Department also are investigating. At least four IRS executives have left their jobs as a result of the controversy.
Staff members have interviewed IRS workers from Washington and from the Cincinnati office that processes applications for tax-exempt status. An inspector general’s report released last month found that the IRS gave extra scrutiny to groups whose names included “Tea Party” and “patriot.”
Issa and Cummings each have released partial transcripts in an effort to bolster their arguments, and the tone of the investigation has become more partisan.
Issa’s excerpts showed that lawyers in Washington were managing and directing some of the work of the IRS employees in Cincinnati. On June 2, he said on CNN that targeting of small-government groups was “coordinated in all likelihood” from Washington.
Cummings’ excerpts showed that a Republican IRS manager backed the agency’s explanation -- that the extra scrutiny wasn’t politically motivated.
“Based upon everything I’ve seen, the case is solved,” Cummings said on CNN June 9. “And if it were me, I would wrap this case up and move on.”
Bloomberg News reviewed transcripts last week that showed the IRS’s initial effort focused so much on trying to set rules for the political involvement of Tea Party groups that Democratic-leaning groups and self-identified “conservative” groups received less attention.
IRS rules prevent groups applying for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code from having politics -- defined as involvement in elections -- as their primary purpose.
Issa said he would release the full transcripts eventually without being more specific. In his letter, he defended what Cummings has called the “cherry picking” of excerpts.
“The release of excerpts from witness interviews can serve to provide important updates to the public,” Issa wrote. “Releasing limited portions of transcripts decreases the likelihood that retaliations will occur -- when agency management knows the press and Congress are watching, witnesses tend to be less likely to be demoted or fired.”
In a statement today, Cummings rejected that contention.
“Chairman Issa changes his mind so fast that even when I agree with him, we’re not on the same page,” he said. “I fully support responsible oversight, but cherry picking transcript excerpts to fuel partisan and unsubstantiated claims is not a credible or effective way to investigate.”
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