BREAKING: IRS Inspector General Intervened Personally to Block Production of Documents Relating to Non-Tea Party Groups
Washington, D.C.—At a hearing today before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel testified that Inspector General J. Russell George personally intervened to block the IRS from turning over documents relating to progressive or left-leaning groups that received treatment similar to Tea Party applicants for tax exempt status.
In response to questioning from Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings, Werfel testified that the Inspector General contacted him personally last week to object to a document production he said was to be “imminently” produced to the Committee. According to Werfel, these documents would have revealed other categories of applicants for tax exempt status similar to Tea Party groups that also received multi-year reviews and extended delays.
Werfel testified that career experts at the IRS had already determined that these documents could be produced to the Committee because they do not reveal the identity of any specific taxpayers, which would be a violation of Section 6103 of a federal statute that protects such information, but instead reference broad categories of organizations. Despite this finding by career IRS officials, the Inspector General intervened to block the production.
Werfel testified that if the Inspector General withdraws his objection, the IRS will provide these documents to the Committee.
Cummings sent a letter on Friday asking Committee Chairman Darrell Issa to recall the Inspector General to testify before the Committee regarding this and other “serious questions” regarding his actions. The Inspector General is scheduled to appear at tomorrow’s hearing.
Video of Werfel’s testimony is available here, and a transcript of the exchange is set forth below:
Cummings: During our interviews, we have been told by more than one IRS employee that there were progressive or left-leaning groups that received treatment similar to the Tea Party applicants. As part of your internal review, have you identified non-Tea Party groups that received similar treatment.
Cummings: We were told that one category of applicants had their applications denied by the IRS after a three-year review. Is that right?
Werfel: Yes, that’s my understanding—that there is a group or set of groups that had that experience, yes.
Cummings: As I understand it, last week the IRS was prepared to make a document production to the Committee. By the way, this is a request from the Chairman. And those documents would have shown other categories of applicants—categories in addition to the Tea Party groups we have been focusing on to date. Before I go any further, is that right?
Cummings: I understand that our Committee does not get access to information about specific taxpayers. I think it’s 6103—is that right?—that prevents us from getting certain information. What Mr. Issa was just talking about a little earlier—
Werfel: That’s correct. We’ll make certain redactions if we believe that the information would be too—have too much information so that you could zero in on a specific taxpayer. So we’ll make those redactions.
Cummings: I understand. Under Section 6103 of Title 26 of the United States code, the IRS cannot reveal specific taxpayer information. In order to make these determinations, and this is going to what you just said, the IRS has career employees who are experts. This is what they do.
Cummings: In determining what is covered by this statute. Is that correct?
Werfel: That’s correct.
Cummings: And in this case, these experts determined that the IRS could provide this information to the Committee. They said the documents did not reveal specific taxpayers, but instead referred to categories of groups—just like the Tea Party groups. Is that right?
Werfel: Yes, that’s correct.
Cummings: So, based on this established process, we should have received that information last week. And by the way, to his credit, the Chairman has been very aggressive in going after documents. But we did not receive that information. Instead, I understand that the Inspector General intervened. Let me say this again—it’s my understanding that the Inspector General intervened personally. Now, Mr. Werfel, my question is, can you tell us what he did? Did he call you, and what did he say.
Werfel: OK, the—
Cummings: In other words, we’re being denied—this Committee is being denied documents that we have requested. Let me finish. And the Chairman, to his credit, has been extremely aggressive in trying to get documents. And I’ve been accused, by the way, of obstructing the investigation, which is totally ridiculous. I want the documents. Now tell me what the IG said that prevents our Committee, that our honorable Chairman, Mr. Issa, requested. What did he say to you to cause us not to be able to get the documents after your experts told us we should have them? Can you tell us what that’s all about?
Werfel: Yes, we were imminently going to produce a document in an unredacted form that would indicate the identity of a grouping of entities that we felt were similar in a kind of scope as Tea Party—in terms of its grouping—so that it wouldn’t be able, you wouldn’t be able to identify a particular taxpayer because the grouping name was so broad. And, he reached out when he learned that we were about to produce this information and expressed concern and indicated a disagreement with our internal experts on whether that information was 6103-protected or not. And out of an abundance of caution, the IRS decided to redact that information until we could sort through with the IG his position, and understand why it’s different from ours. And we’ve had subsequent conversations with him where we have reasserted our position that the information should not be redacted, but we have not reached a resolution with him at this point.
Cummings: I don’t understand. I thought that the career officials at the IRS—the officials who do this for a living, day after day, hour after hour—already determined that it was ok for the IRS to produce these documents to the Committee that Chairman Issa requested. This seems very strange. Mr. Werfel, I know you just started, but has this ever to your knowledge happened before—the Inspector General personally intervening to prevent disclosures to the Congress of the United States of America? Have any of your staff members ever heard of this happening before? Now, you’re surrounded by folks, you can look around, and they may tell you something different, and if they’ve got some other answers, and if they haven’t been sworn, Mr. Chairman, I ask that they be sworn in so that we can know of these exceptions. …
Werfel: I just don’t know the answer to that question. I personally am not aware of any similar situation. But we can take that question back and do a broader inquiry amongst the IRS leadership and other professionals and get an answer.