The Internal Revenue Service’s inspector general told Congress he’s “disturbed” that he didn’t receive until this month a July 2010 document that mentioned scrutiny of “progressive” nonprofit groups.
“I am very disturbed that these documents were not provided to our auditors at the outset, and we are currently reviewing this issue,” J. Russell George told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “I’m concerned that there may be additional pieces of information that we don’t have.”
George’s May 14 audit, showing the IRS singled out Tea Party groups that sought tax-exempt status, sparked a controversy that has cost IRS executives their jobs and led to a criminal investigation. Democrats have criticized George for failing to disclose that Republican-leaning groups weren’t the only ones that received extra scrutiny.
The inquiries into the IRS have become increasingly partisan as Republicans continue their pursuit of Washington-based IRS officials who were involved in the review process.
“The big unanswered question of all these hearings is why. Why were these groups targeted,” said Representative Scott DesJarlais, a Tennessee Republican. “There does seem to be somebody who doesn’t want the truth to come out.”
Democrats have argued that the initial insinuations by Republicans of a political conspiracy have proved to be untrue.
The documents that were the focus of George’s comments today include a presentation that lumped progressives with Tea Party groups and meeting minutes that said progressives weren’t Tea Party groups.
George said he doesn’t have complete findings on how progressive groups were scrutinized.
He said in his testimony that IRS officials were the ones who said they had focused on Tea Party groups for potential impermissible political involvement and not progressive groups identified in another part of a Be on the Lookout, or BOLO, document.
“We focused our audit on the BOLO entries shown in this document precisely because the IRS represented that these were the criteria relevant to potential political cases,” George said.
George said he had known since May 20 that there were BOLO listings that had included Democratic-leaning groups. He said he would have written the audit differently if he had known about that beforehand.
“You know people’s heads would explode if you talked about Tea Party BOLOs and you didn’t mention any other ones,” said Representative Matthew Cartwright, a Pennsylvania Democrat.
George responded to criticism from Democrats that he had blocked the release of certain information about Democratic-leaning groups on the July 2010 document. He said the IRS changed its mind about whether that information is subject to taxpayer-privacy rules and that the inspector general’s lawyers are reviewing the issue.
George also said that he had been told there was a “smoking gun” in e-mails showing the origins of the scrutiny. That’s why investigators looked at 5,500 e-mails and found no evidence of political motivation.
The committee also heard from Elizabeth Hofacre, who processed applications in Cincinnati, and Carter Hull, a retired IRS employee based in Washington.
Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, focused on the fact that Hull, a 48-year veteran of the IRS, had Tea Party cases taken from him and given to a junior employee after a meeting with attorneys from the IRS chief counsel’s office.
“The real harassment was never getting to an answer” as the groups were kept waiting in their bid for tax-exempt status, Jordan said.
Jordan said the committee plans to seek testimony from William Wilkins, the chief counsel of the IRS. Wilkins is a political appointee of President Barack Obama. So far, no evidence has emerged that Wilkins was involved in the scrutiny of politically oriented nonprofit groups.