House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa hit the Justice Department with a subpoena Tuesday, accusing officials of "dodging" questions and of blatant "obstruction" of an investigation into the IRS' targeting of conservative and tea party groups.
In a blistering letter
, the California Republican complained that Justice official Richard Pilger, at the urging of departmental lawyers, balked at answering committee questions "an astounding 34 times" during a May 6 interview.
s refusal to allow Mr. Pilger to testify about matters highly relevant to the Committee's investigation unnecessarily delays and frustrates the Committee's Constitutional oversight obligations," Issa wrote.
"The Department's obstruction in this regard, coupled with its failure to produce any relevant material to date, leads the Committee to conclude the Department is not seriously committed to cooperating with the Committee's investigation on the Committee's terms."
The ramping up of pressure on the Justice Department comes as evidence points to alleged political motivation
in the targeting scandal coming from Washington-based Democratic officials.
A batch of IRS emails
emerged showing that Pilger, who is director of the Justice Department's election crimes branch, talked last year with now-retired IRS official Lois Lerner about seeking criminal prosecutions of some politically active tax-exempt groups.
Issa's committee said the emails show "a clear outline . . . of government agencies cracking down on constitutionally protected free speech."
The subpoena seeks all of Pilger's communications about tax-exempt organizations and applicants and all emails to Lerner.
Pilger was following up on an idea floated publicly by Democratic lawmakers, the Wall Street Journal
is at the center of the targeting scandal, and acknowledged the targeting last May.
Since then, Issa has been determined to get her testimony before his panel. So far, however, she has twice invoked her Fifth Amendment
right to remain silent.
The House voted earlier this month to hold her in contempt
A Justice Department spokesman last month suggested the conversation between Pilger and Lerner didn't relate to any alleged IRS targeting and didn't lead to any agency action, the Journal noted.
"The fact of the May 2013 conversation doesn't interfere in any way with the current investigation of the IRS," spokesman Peter Carr said in a prepared statement. "The alleged misconduct by the IRS that is currently under investigation predated that call by more than a year."
"Even after the May 2013 conversation, the IRS didn't refer any groups to the Justice Department for possible prosecution, nor did the Department launch any such investigations," the statement added.
In the contentious interview with Pilger, Issa wrote, Pilger was told not to talk about whether he communicated with any IRS official since Lerner apologized for the targeting on May 10, 2013, or about whether he provided information to The Wall Street Journal
that resulted in an article reporting that the FBI wouldn't seek charges in the scandal.
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