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Issa Accuses White House, IRS of Stonewalling on Targeting Probe

Image: Issa Accuses White House, IRS of Stonewalling on Targeting Probe

By Todd Beamon   |   Tuesday, 30 Jul 2013 08:56 PM

Rep. Darrell Issa accused the Obama administration and its new IRS chief on Tuesday of obstructing his panel's investigation into the agency's targeting of tea party, conservative and religious groups.

If "the IRS continues to hinder the committee's investigation in any manner, the committee will be forced to consider use of compulsory process," the California Republican, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote in a letter to Internal Revenue Service Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel.

The letter, which was reported by The Washington Times and CNN, was also signed by Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who also sits on the committee.

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The letter, however, did not elaborate on exactly what steps Issa's panel might take, though he noted that impeding congressional investigators could result in prison terms of up to five years.

"Obstructing a congressional investigation is a crime," Issa and Jordan stressed in the letter.

"Despite your promise to cooperate fully with congressional investigations, the actions of the IRS under your leadership have made clear to the committee that the agency has no intention of complying completely or promptly with the committee's oversight efforts," the letter said.

"The systematic manner in which the IRS has attempted to delay, frustrate, impede, and obstruct the committee's investigation raises serious concerns about your commitment to full and unfettered congressional oversight," the document said.

The Issa-Jordan letter came on the same day when another House panel, the Ways and Means Committee, released an analysis showing that conservative groups faced more probing questions than did liberal groups seeking the same tax-exempt status.

Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp told the Times that conservative groups were asked three times as many questions, and were less than half as likely to get approval from the IRS.

Like the oversight committee, Camp said his investigators were also waiting on the IRS to turn over more information.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," he told the Times. "We have received less than three percent of the documents responsive to the investigation."

Meanwhile, an IRS spokeswoman, Michelle Eldridge, told both the Times and CNN that the agency was "aggressively responding to the numerous data requests we've received from Congress.

"We are doing everything we can to fully cooperate with the committees, and we strongly disagree with any suggestions to the contrary," Eldridge said.

The letter claimed, for instance, that the IRS has handed over only 12,000 of the more than 64 million pages of documents initially identified as potentially relevant to the investigation into the alleged unfair targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

"This incredibly slow pace of production has been an unnecessary attempt to frustrate the committee's oversight efforts," Issa and Jordan said in the letter.

Eldridge contended, however, that "while the volume of raw data collected ... is quite high, it is a misleading figure to use in order to determine the volume of material the IRS will ultimately produce."

"The vast majority of it is completely unrelated to the congressional investigations," she said.

"Once the data is limited to the time period in question, and the issue in question, we expect the final tally of produced documents will be far lower — in the neighborhood of 460,000 documents or fewer."

Eldridge said that 70 of 1,500 or so attorneys in the IRS chief counsel's office were currently working full time to respond to congressional inquiries into the matter.

It is a "time- and labor-intensive review process," she said.

In addition, the Issa-Jordan letter also complained that documents produced by the IRS "contain excessive redactions that go well beyond those necessary to protect confidential taxpayer information."

The letter also asserted that a senior IRS official — Cindy Thomas — had been "affirmatively prevented" from providing congressional investigators with relevant documents in her possession.

Additionally, Issa blasted the agency for allegedly trying to "carefully orchestrate the public release" of information contained in a 30-day review of the matter back in June — before providing the information to the committee.

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Capitol Hill Republicans have long insisted that after President Barack Obama was first elected, the IRS started unfairly targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Democrats, however, argue the IRS improperly scrutinized groups on both the left and right as part of a clumsy attempt to administer vague election-related tax laws.

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