Issa Faults FBI Probe of IRS Scrutiny of Tea Party Groups

Representative Darrell Issa questioned the legitimacy of a U.S. criminal investigation into the screening of Tea Party groups by the Internal Revenue Service, saying that anonymous leaks had harmed the inquiry.

Issa, a California Republican who has led congressional probes into the matter, criticized Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department following a media report that federal authorities didn’t plan to pursue criminal charges in the case.

“These revelations further undermine the credibility of the Attorney General Holder and the Justice Department under his leadership,” Issa and Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, said in a statement last night. “Given the circumstances, there is little reason for the American people to have confidence in this investigation.”

Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the Justice Department, declined to comment today.

The IRS said in May that it had given extra scrutiny to Tea Party groups applying for nonprofit status, unleashing a scandal that led to the ouster of the agency’s acting chief and several other senior officials. Congressional committees, including the House Oversight panel led by Issa, have begun investigations and the Justice Department has been conducting a criminal probe.

Issa was responding to a report in the Wall Street Journal yesterday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation didn’t plan to seek charges.

Republican Criticism

As the federal investigation unfolded, Republicans have criticized the slow release of documents from the IRS and emphasized the involvement of IRS lawyers in Washington. Democrats have focused on the lack of clear rules governing the tax agency’s oversight of political groups.

“The American people understand what’s really going on here. They have seen the Obama administration -- especially the DOJ -- do very little to move this investigation forward,” Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a statement. “They have seen the stonewalling, the misdirection, and now the politically motivated reasons to sweep the IRS scandal under the rug.”

Sekulow, whose group represents 41 small-government groups suing the government, has criticized federal investigators for being too slow to seek interviews with the groups.

Extra Scrutiny

The IRS gave extra attention to some small-government Tea Party groups starting in 2010 solely because of their names. Those groups, and others, encountered delays and were asked questions that the agency’s inspector general deemed inappropriate.

Since May, congressional investigators have found that some Democratic-leaning groups also received extra scrutiny, though it remains unknown whether and how they differed from Republican-leaning organizations.

Those investigations and an internal review of Lois Lerner, the agency’s former head of exempt organizations, have found no evidence of political bias or involvement from outside the IRS, Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said in September.

Last week, Issa criticized the Justice Department for having as an investigator in the case a prosecutor who had made campaign contributions to President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

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