Issa, Treasury Wrangle Over Subpoena for Tea Party Documents

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.,  holds up documents during a hearing on the IRS in May. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., holds up documents during a hearing on the IRS in May. Carolyn Kaster/AP

This story has been updated.

The top House oversight chairman has issued a second subpoena to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to turn over documents sought in the ongoing investigation of the Internal Revenue Service’s extra scrutiny of conservative nonprofits.

On Friday, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced he had subpoenaed Lew for “documents and communications” in connection with the alleged targeting of tea-party-related groups applying for tax-exempt status.

“As of today, almost five months since the committee’s initial request, the department has produced almost no internal communications about the substance of the investigation and has only produced material in response to a few of the committee’s multiple document requests,” Issa said.

The latest move was prompted by an Oct. 24 Treasury letter to Issa explaining why the department had not met the Oct. 2 deadline for an earlier request from the oversight chairman. “As we explained to your staff on that date and thereafter, because of the government shutdown, we were not able to meet that deadline,” wrote Alastair Fitzpayne, assistant Treasury secretary for legislative affairs. “Nonetheless, Treasury is committed to cooperating with this committee, along with the three other congressional committees conducting investigations regarding this matter.”

Treasury’s recent letter was accompanied by 800 pages of internal documents, supplementing 356 pages turned over in June, a batch Issa characterized as “mostly letters from members of Congress and drafts of congressional testimony.”

The sweeping subpoena from Issa, who is working with Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and that panel’s oversight chairman, Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., opens with a request for “all documents and communications to or from any employee of the U.S. Department of the Treasury referring or relating to Internal Revenue Service processes, procedures or criteria for evaluating applications for tax-exempt status.”

It asks for documents relating to a June 4, 2012, briefing by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to General Counsel Christopher Meade, as well as notes, edits and drafts from 11 categories of letters sent to Congress from since-departed IRS employees Steven T. Miller, Lois Lerner and Joseph Grant.

The subpoena also demands documents relating to IRS staffing in preparation for implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The Treasury response challenged some of Issa’s suggestions, contradicting, for example, the lawmaker’s statements that former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and later Lew were present at routine TIGTA briefings about ongoing audits and investigations. TIGTA’s leaders have testified to Congress that the inspector general keeps top Treasury officials informed on general topics but remains autonomous while conducting its probes.

Treasury also told Issa that IRS had already complied with many of his requests. “Since my June 27 letter, the IRS has provided regular rolling productions of documents specifically requested by congressional committees, including over 400,000 unredacted pages of documents to those committees authorized to receive taxpayer-confidential information,” Fitzpayne wrote.

“The IRS has dedicated more than 150 employees to tasks relating to the production of information and documents to congressional committees, including Section 6103 [privacy protection] disclosure experts tasked with the review for taxpayer-confidential information of every page of the over 80,000 redacted pages of documents produced to your committee.”

A Treasury official told Government Executive that the department remains committed to working with Congress. "Accordingly, we have produced nearly 2,000 pages of documents to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and will continue to work with the committee to get them any additional information they may need," the official said. "Additionally, as we have said numerous times, Treasury is not involved in the details of tax administration and enforcement. The IRS is best suited to provide documents, information and witnesses on this matter.”

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