One IRS employee called a conservative group “icky” while another griped that they would probably “have to” approve a different group’s application for nonprofit status, according to the latest findings Tuesday by the House Oversight Committee.
In a new staff report released by Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who is term-limited as chairman of the committee, investigators also found IRS officials had “repeatedly changed their stories” about what went on and who was responsible for targeting the conservative and tea party groups who applied for nonprofit status.
The different stories, and roadblocks erected by the tax agency, the White House and congressional Democrats have made it difficult to figure out exactly what went on in the agency as it was targeting tea party and conservative groups for improper scrutiny and delaying approval of their applications, the investigators said.
“Nearly four years after the committee began probing complaints about disparate treatment towards applicants for tax-exempt status, the committee’s investigation is not closed,” the report concludes after giving a status check on what the investigation has found, and what questions are still outstanding.
The report comes as Mr. Issa prepares to turn the committee reins over to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, giving the Utah Republican a chance to put his own stamp on the IRS and other investigations the committee is conducting.
Democrats questioned the way the report was written and released, saying it was odd Mr. Issa’s investigators didn’t share the report with them before it was released.
“It is revealing that the Republicans – yet again – are leaking cherry-picked excerpts of documents to support their preconceived political narrative without allowing committee members to even see their conclusions or vote on them first,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee.
The release of excerpts of the committee’s interviews has long been a sore point for Democrats, who have tried to get Mr. Issa to release the transcripts in their entirety. Democrats argue that would give the public a more accurate view than the snapshots Mr. Issa releases.
Among the snapshots in this latest report is one instance from an email where an IRS employee said a group that had applied for nonprofit status “gives me an icky feeling.” In another instance an employee seemed to begrudge that they would “have to” approve conservative and tea party group applications.
The report recounts an interview investigators had with David Fish, a manager in the division that scrutinizes tax-exempt applications, where he said that an organization associated with the team party is “probably a loud group.”
“They expected to be given tax-exempt status, even though they’re doing things that they might not be allowed to do,” he said, according to excerpts of the interview included in the report.
Investigators said the IRS must learn to keep that attitude out of its work.
“The IRS and its employees, whose conduct is largely shielded from public scrutiny to protect taxpayers, were not only affected by politics, but by a more basic human failure: a discriminatory outlook on the world,” the staff report argues. “The IRS’s inability to keep politics out of objective decisions about interpretation of the tax code damaged its primary function: an apolitical tax collector that Americans can trust to treat them fairly.
However, the report says it has been unable to come to a conclusion about whether the White House knew about the targeting beforehand, saying there “are conflicting” accounts.
The IRS has admitted it was too intrusive in its questions, but argues it is no longer targeting or asking improper questions of groups that apply. Still, some groups are awaiting approval for applications submitted four or five years ago.
New Commissioner John Koskinen, whom President Obama nominated to take over the troubled agency in the midst of the scandal, has said he is trying to cooperate with the probes, but has also asked that they be sped up, saying they are a distraction and that it’s expensive to comply.