In a coordinated effort between House and Senate Republicans, the chairmen of the two tax committees on Wednesday asked the Internal Revenue Service commissioner for emails and other documents that might indicate sharing of private taxpayer information between the Internal Revenue Service and the White House.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, cited an earlier White House “refusal” to respond in a March 4 letter to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
“As you know, §6103(g) provides the president of the United States and certain White House officials access to this information in limited circumstances and with certain required procedures,” the chairmen wrote. “In carrying out our oversight obligations, we are seeking to determine the degree to and manner in which the Internal Revenue Service shares taxpayer information with the Executive Office of the President.”
The letter seeks “all electronic communication in the agency’s possession from or to an ‘eop.gov’ email address, or regarding White House communication, from January 1, 2010, through the date of this letter.”
On Jan. 29, Hatch joined with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to write a similar request to President Obama, following up on suspicions long held by conservative activists and some lawmakers that White House aides had inappropriately received private tax returns of organizations and individuals. In April 2014, then Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., had sent a similar request.
A White House spokesman on Friday referred Government Executive to a Feb. 17 response to the senators. In that letter, White House counsel Neil Eggleston said Obama wasn’t refusing to comply, but noted that the new request is “largely identical” to the letter from Camp last year and that Koskinen will be responding in the course of the IRS’ larger documentation production effort to satisfy congressional inquiries.
“I understand that, over the past two years, the IRS has produced more than 1 million pages of documents to your committee,” Eggleston wrote. “I also understand that 250 IRS employees have spent more than 138,000 hours working directly on complying with congressional investigations, at a cost of approximately $18 million, which also includes the cost of adding capacity to the IRS’ information systems.”
The notion that White House officials looked at private taxpayer returns is also at the heart of an ongoing legal battle between the nonprofit transparency group Cause of Action and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
TIGTA has so far fended off Cause of Action’s demand for the release of 2,500 documents that the nonprofit says might show inappropriate exchanges of taxpayer information early in the Obama administration. The officials allegedly involved are Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of Council of Economic Advisers, and Jeanne Lambrew, who was deputy director of the now-defunct White House Office of Health Reform.