House Oversight Republicans Blast IRS Chief Counsel

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The quiet but continuing House Republican-led probe of the Internal Revenue Service’s treatment of tea party groups produced a new wrinkle in late November with an intivation to William Wilkins, the agency’s chief counsel and President Obama’s appointee, to “amend” testimony he gave the panel on Nov. 6 that the lawmakers suggest was deceptive.

Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which with the Ways and Means panel has been investigating the IRS since May, sent a letter to Wilkins dated Nov. 26 saying that despite “the fact that you had over five months to prepare yourself, your cooperation with the committee’s investigation was lacking.”

Wilkins, whom the IRS volunteered for testimony back on Aug. 2 and who spoke to Issa staffers in private early last month, used the phrase “I don’t recall” a “staggering 80 times in full or partial response to the committee’s questions,” said the letter, co-signed by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. “Your memory consistently failed when you were asked about information you shared with the Treasury Department,” it said. The testimony “suggests either a deliberate attempt to obfuscate your involvment in this matter or gross incompetence on your part.”

Issa blasted Wilkins’ statements that he was unaware of the mishandling of nonprofit groups’ applications for tax-exempt status primarily by a unit in Cincinnati until he read the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s audit exposing the problem last May. In Issa’s account, the chief counsel said he was unfamiliar with any of the guidance or politically sensitive terminology that IRS processers were using to determine whether a given applicant was more a political group or a social welfare group.

And Issa also used the letter, which includes partial quotations from Wilkins’ testimony, to repeat his earlier suggestion of likely coordination between the IRS’ now-controversial application-processing operation and the Treasury Department, and perhaps even the White House.

“Treatment of tea party groups was a serious matter worthy of the attention of all IRS leadership, including yourself,” Issa wrote in paraphrasing the chief counsel. “Yet, despite the seriousness of the allegations, which cut to the core of the integrity of the IRS as a fair and impartial arbiter of tax law, you consistently testified that you did not recall raising this as a serious matter with the Treasury Department.”

Wilkins’ relationship with his nominal superior at Treasury, chief counsel Christopher Meade, also prompted skepticism from the Republicans, who noted that Wilkins “became offended” by the implication that hes kept any matter from Meade. “You claim to have good open realtionship with Meade,” Issa wrote, but the failure to recall details “suggests either that you were grossly incompetent informing your superiors about a matter of immense importance to the IRS’ integrity or that you deliberately misled the committee with your testimony.”

Democrats on the panel, copied on the letter, rejected its premise and called Issa’s tactics reckless.

“The problem with any investigation that relies on leaking cherry-picked transcript excerpts is that it is bound to tell only part of the story,” the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said in a statement to Government Executive. “In this case, after an exhaustive investigation, there is zero evidence to support Republican claims that the White House directed the IRS to target tea party groups for political reasons. Mr. Wilkins has been consistent that he was not aware of how the IRS handled tea party applications for tax-exempt status until he read the inspector general’s report in 2013, but Chairman Issa's letter omits the fact that all of the other witnesses interviewed by the committee who have information on this issue corroborated his account.”

Cummings, who called for a focus on clarifying the area of the law that caused the controversy, released his own portions of the Wilkins transcript, including quotations showing Wilkins being critical of the IRS staff for considering applicants’ rhetorical names rather than their activities as the basis for judging the extent of their political activity.

The reason Wilkins didn’t intervene after learning of the mishandled process, the chief counsel said, is that the Exempt Organizations Division and then-acting Internal Revenue Commissioner Steven T. Miller “were taking steps. I did not feel that they lacked, you know, the legal knowledge on what the rules were. And if they needed legal advice they would have gone to someone who was more of a technical specialist in the area than me.”

Issa and Jordan gave Wilkins until Dec. 10 to come into the committee office to amend his testiomny.

An IRS spokesman on Monday said the letter is currently being reviewed.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.