IF THERE was an award for screwing up, Rep. Darrell Issa would be the top contender, with his latest investigation, which focuses on the IRS targeting Tea Party groups, hoping he’d ensnare the White House, going down in flames. Instead of Issa proving the Tea Party screening was concocted out of the Obama White House, we learn just the opposite, with one delectable added bonus.
Issa refused to release the full transcript of an interview with a key IRS witness, a screening manager, saying it would damage the investigation. Rep. Elijah Cummings threatened to do it himself, which he has now done. The new evidence seems to exonerate the White House, but that’s not all.
From Greg Sargent, who broke the story:
Democrats on the House Oversight Committee have just released a full transcript of testimony from a key witness in the investigation of IRS targeting of conservatives — and it appears to confirm that the initial targeting did originate with a low-level employee in the Cincinnati office.
It also shows a key witness and IRS screening manager – a self described conservative Republican — denying any communication with the White House or senior IRS officials about the targeting.
The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, knew what the interview contained, as did Issa, so it’s now obvious why Issa didn’t want the full transcript made available to the public. With a “self described conservative Republican” offering what sure seems to be the exonerating evidence, Mr. Issa looks like a complete buffoon.
The screening manager in the interview also stated that neither Lois Lerner, the former director of the Exempt Organizations Division, or former IRS commissioner Douglas Schulman had any conversations about the “screening of Tea Party cases.” However, it is clear that Ms. Lerner knew about what was going on in 2011, which you’ll see from Cummings’ letter excerpt below.
From the letter Cummings sent to Issa, from Greg Sargent, with the emphasis added:
This interview transcript provides a detailed first-hand account of how these practices first originated, and it debunks conspiracy theories about how the IRS first started reviewing these cases. Answering questions from Committee staff for more than five hours, this official — who identified himself as a “conservative Republican” — denied that he or anyone on his team was directed by the White House to take these actions or that they were politically motivated. Instead, the Screening Group Manager explained that the very first case at issue in this investigation was initially flagged by one of his own screeners in February 2010. [...]
To be clear, I am not suggesting that IRS employees in Washington, D.C. played no role in these activities. For example, the Inspector General has already reported that Lois Lerner, the Director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS, became aware of the use of inappropriate criteria in 2011. The Inspector General also identified a document called a “Be on The Lookout,” or BOLO, that directed IRS employees in Cincinnati to send these applications to a specific group within the Cincinnati office that was coordinating with IRS employees in the Exempt Organizations Technical Unit in Washington, D.C. According to the Inspector General, after Ms. Lerner learned of the terms used by the screeners, she immediately ordered a halt to the use of these terms, resulting in a change to the BOLO in July 2011 to apply to all organizations “involved with political, lobbying, or advocacy for exemption under 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4).”
These facts are a far cry from accusations of a conspiracy orchestrated by the White House to target the President’s political enemies. At this point in the investigation, not one witness who has appeared before the Committee has identified any involvement by any White House officials in the identification or screening of Tea Party applicants for tax exempt status, and the Committee has obtained no documents indicating any such involvement.