House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) claimed on Sunday that political officials in the Obama administration directed Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents in Cincinnati to target conservative groups applying for 501 (c)(4) status, but his charge fell apart when probed by CNN host Candy Crowley.
Relying on interviews the Committee staff conducted with IRS officers who applied the additional scrutiny to Tea Party and patriot groups, Issa claimed “the indication is they were directly being ordered from Washington.” “The reason Lois Lerner tried to take the Fifth [Amendment], it’s because this was a problem coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters and we’re getting to proving it,” Issa told Crowley, referring to the the embattled head of the IRS’ exempt organizations division who refused to testify before Congress and has since been placed on administrative leave.
To substantiate his claim, Issa provided CNN with selected excerpts from his staff’s interviews with IRS agents. But as Crowley quickly pointed out, the portion Issa cherry picked did not definitely prove that officials in Washington D.C. directed IRS officers to target conservative groups. In fact, after hearing Crowley read the transcript of an interview, Issa himself admitted that he has yet to uncover evidence that demonstrates IRS coordination with Washington:
CROWLEY: The investigator said “So is it your perspective that ultimately the responsible parties for the decisions reported by the [Inspector General] that is the decision that target tea party and patriot applications, are not in the Cincinnati office?
The employee says, ‘I don’t know how to answer that question. I mean, from an agent standpoint, we didn’t do anything wrong. We followed directions based on other people telling us what to do.’
Investigator, ‘And you ultimately followed directions from Washington, is that correct?
The employee, ‘if direction had come down from Washington, yes.’
The investigator, ‘But with respect to the particular scrutiny that was given to tea party applications, those directions emanated from Washington, is that right?’
The employee answers, ‘I believe so.’ It’s totally not definitive.
ISSA: This one isn’t. But I will tell you, one of the agents asked for and got a transfer because that person was so uncomfortable that they wanted out of it.
“You don’t have that direct link,” Crowley continued. “You have the frontline agents going, yeah, we figured it was from Washington or I believe it was, but as of yet you don’t have that definitive, yeah, this guy called me and said, people, go look for tea party and patriot applications.” Issa claimed his investigation would eventually turn up direct evidence of his charges and described White House Press Secretary Jay Carney as a “paid liar” for claiming that Washington officials did not direct IRS agents.
The Inspector General’s report into the matter concluded that the IRS relied on “inappropriate criteria” while vetting groups applying for nonprofit status by using a BOLO—”Be On the Look Out”—list and blamed IRS officials in Washington, DC, for “insufficient oversight” of lower-level staffers. However, it specifically concluded that “All of these officials stated that the criteria were not influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS.”