Four IRS Employees to Be Interviewed in Congress Probe

Congressional investigators plan to interview four Internal Revenue Service employees as part of a probe into the agency’s scrutiny of small-government groups, according to a spokesman for Representative Darrell Issa.

The IRS is making four more employees available for transcribed interviews to the House Ways and Means and Oversight and Government Reform panels. The employees work in the Cincinnati office that handles applications for tax-exempt status, said Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for Issa, a California Republican who’s chairman of the House Oversight panel.

The committee has already questioned Holly Paz, one of five interviews it sought in the inquiry. The other four employees are John Shafer, Gary Muthert, Liz Hofacre and Joseph Herr.

The tax agency’s disclosure this month that it singled out groups with “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their names for extra scrutiny before deciding whether to grant tax-exempt status is one of three controversies besetting President Barack Obama. Also spurring criticism and inquiries are the administration’s response to last year’s attacks on a U.S. outpost in Libya and the Justice Department’s seizure of telephone records of Associated Press journalists during a probe into leaked national-security information.

Ahmad said in an e-mail yesterday that Issa’s panel will seek to interview more IRS workers. Lawmakers, investigators and IRS officials haven’t identified who began selecting groups for extra attention in 2010 when they sought tax-exempt status.

Three Officials

Four congressional committees and the U.S. Justice Department are probing the IRS’s treatment of the groups’ applications. Already, three IRS officials have left their jobs as a result of the controversy.

Steven Miller, the former acting commissioner, was forced out of that position. Joseph Grant, who oversaw tax-exempt groups and government entities, announced his retirement eight days after being promoted.

Lois Lerner, who managed the office that handled applications from tax-exempt groups, was placed on paid administrative leave May 23. A day earlier, she gave Issa’s panel a short statement denying wrongdoing and then refused to testify, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination.

She disclosed the IRS’s actions on May 10 and apologized, four days before an inspector general’s report was released.

Graves Letter

The House Ways and Means panel is set to hold a hearing June 4 where representatives from some of the groups will testify.

Representative Sam Graves, chairman of the House Small Business Committee, sent a letter to the IRS today asking about the agency’s practices for deciding which small businesses to audit and how much money those audits recover.

Graves, a Missouri Republican, didn’t accuse the IRS of auditing small businesses for political reasons. Still, he wrote, “These investigations have only raised more questions as to the extent these practices may have extended beyond conservative groups.”

So far, intense questioning by lawmakers on three committees directed at the IRS hasn’t revealed who decided to single out the groups applying for tax-exempt status based on their names. It hasn’t explained why the agency kept using what an inspector general called “inappropriate” criteria even after IRS officials tried to stop it in 2011.