Next Wrinkle in IRS Flap: Does the IG Secretly Powwow with Republicans?

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, left, accompanied by the committee's Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, left, accompanied by the committee's Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Two key Democrats on the House oversight panel are objecting to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s private meetings with the Republican chairman of their committee.

In the latest in the ongoing and politicized dispute over the Internal Revenue Service’s mishandling of tax-exemption applications, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., sent a Feb. 4 letter to Inspector General J. Russell George objecting “strongly to your office’s repeated partisan meetings with Chairman Darrell Issa and his staff after intentionally excluding Democratic Committee Members and staff -- particularly regarding matters that currently are under active investigation by both your office and this committee.” Cummings is the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Connolly is the top Democrat on the panel’s Government Operations subcommittee.

“According to subsequent accounts from your office, Chairman Issa’s staff forbade you from including any Democratic committee members or staff in that meeting, and your staff accepted these terms without even informing my office,” the two Democrats wrote, singling out a Jan. 27 meeting allegedly discussing IRS implementation of the controversial Affordable Care Act. “Democratic staff became aware of this meeting only after it occurred,” they added.  

The Democrats made three requests of George, the first two asking for the same treatment in private meetings, as is accorded the chairman. The third asks for documents relating to TIGTA spokeswoman Karen Kraushaar’s 2013 statement that Issa specifically had requested investigators probing the IRS Exempt Organization’s Division’s mishandling of nonprofit applications “narrowly focus on tea party organizations.” George later said Kraushaar misspoke.  

Democrats on the House oversight panel as well as on the Ways and Means Committee have argued that the Treasury IG’s May 2013 audit of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division mischaracterized the groups targeted for extra attention as being almost exclusively conservative rather than the mixture of political leanings Democrats say is the case. 

Asked for a response, Issa spokesman Frederick Hill told Government Executive, “As an errand runner for the Obama White House, Ranking Member Cummings often reverts to personal attacks as a distraction when a picture of inappropriate conduct within the administration emerges. His frequent efforts to exclude majority members and staff from communications with White House and other administration officials related to official committee business underscore the hypocrisy of his complaints about an independent government watchdog.” 

TIGTA declined to comment on the matter.

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