House Committees Want IRS Chief Counsel's Documents
Two committees in the U.S. House of Representatives implicated the Internal Revenue Service Office of Chief Counsel even more deeply as they probe why there was increased government scrutiny of conservative and Tea Party-related groups’ applications for tax-exempt status.
“As a part of this ongoing investigation, the committees have learned that the IRS Chief Counsel’s office in Washington, D.C., has been closely involved in some of the applications” and caused delays in processing the applications, according to a letter [PDF] sent by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and House Ways and Means Committee to IRS Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel Wednesday.
As a result, the letter asks the IRS to turn over new documents and insists that the agency give priority to a previous request for records involving the chief counsel.
The letter seeks “all documents and communications between or among employees of the IRS chief counsel’s office, employees of the Department of the Treasury General Counsel’s office, or employees of the Executive Office of the President.”
The involvement of the chief counsel’s office and its “demands for information about political activity during the 2010 election cycle appears to have caused systematic delays in the processing of Tea Party applications,” the letter states.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Camp, a Michigan Republican, signed the letter. They have accused the IRS of politically targeting conservative groups like the Tea Party.
The two claimed the IRS ordered Tea Party applications to go through an unusual multi-layer review that included a senior advisor and the chief counsel’s office. That office is led by William Wilkins, one of two Obama Administration political appointees at the IRS.
A report by the inspector general in May [PDF] found the IRS scrutiny was inappropriate.
But the report said Wilkins did not participate in an August 2011 meeting relating to tax-exempt applications, and that the meeting “involved staff attorneys several layers below Wilkins. The IRS Office of Chief Counsel has approximately 1,600 attorneys,” and Wilkins is not involved in the tax-exempt application process, it added.
The report also said Wilkins “did not discuss 501(c)(4) [tax-exempt] applications with the Treasury General Counsel,” to whom Wilkins reports.
The Werfel letter also contains congressional testimony from two IRS employees: career tax law specialist Carter Hull and Hull’s supervisor Ronald Shoemaker, who implicated the chief counsel’s office.
Hull testified as to how unusual the treatment of Tea Party applications was, and the fact that those cases are still open nearly three years later.
Shoemaker said the delays were caused by the chief counsel’s office at first sitting on the applications and then months later demanding that Hull gather more information.
“Counsel was not very forthcoming on what their opinion was,” he said. “But we discussed it to some extent and they indicated that they wanted more development of possible political activity or political intervention right before the election period.”
Issa and Camp wrote, “The lengthy review of the test applications in Washington created a bottleneck and caused the delay of other Tea Party applications in Cincinnati. Indeed, multiple IRS employees in Cincinnati . . . told the Committee they were waiting on guidance from Washington on how to move the applications forward.”