New Oversight Panel Leadership, Same Tensions Over House IRS Probe

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Susan Walsh/AP

A month into his chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is raising expectations for new twists in the controversy over political targeting at the Internal Revenue Service.

In comments published Feb. 7 in the Wall Street Journal, Chaffetz sought to reassure editorialists worried that staff departures meant an 18-month-long House probe is flagging. The inquiry is still “top of the list, No. 1,” Chaffetz said, adding that he recently met with J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and was “stunned at what I heard.” Though the nature of the “revelations” won’t emerge until the next hearing, Chaffetz said his “jaw hit the ground.”

Past oversight panel Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., in December released a progress report on the committee’s investigation of the IRS Exempt Organizations division’s mishandling of applications for tax-exempt status primarily from conservative nonprofits. “The report is not a final report on the IRS targeting scandal but it nonetheless draws on more documents and interviews than any other report released to date,” the update said. “IRS continues to produce responsive documents and other federal agencies have yet to fully comply with the committee’s requests for information.”

But committee Democrats, who have long argued that Republicans are prolonging a politicized investigation, have criticized Issa for meeting privately with the inspector general. And despite hopes expressed by both parties that new Chairman Chaffetz will work cooperatively with ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Democrats on Monday complained about Chaffetz’s briefing by TIGTA in a statement to Government Executive.

“Unfortunately, Democrats were excluded from this meeting, just like so many others over the past two years, and this reflects a longstanding problem with this inspector general, his office and their partisan activities,” said a Democratic aide.

Democrats did receive a TIGTA briefing, the aide added, but a week later and without advance notice of the chairman’s briefing.

A committee majority spokeswoman confirmed the Wall Street Journal’s account, saying Chaffetz’s “interest in the IRS issue is a priority, is ongoing and is not over,” though no date has been set for the next hearing.

A TIGTA spokesman declined to comment.

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