IRS Confirms Confidential Tax Information Not Shared With White House
Washington, D.C.—Yesterday, Danny Werfel, Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, sent a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform explaining that confidential tax information was not shared with the White House in violation of Section 6103 of title 26 of the U.S. Code, contrary to allegations made at the Committee’s hearing last Wednesday.
At the hearing, which was supposed to be about the IRS’s Implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Jim Jordan and other Republican Committee Members raised questions about an email sent from IRS official Sarah Hall Ingram to the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Health Reform about a separate matter involving the tax treatment of certain categories of organizations. When a copy of the email was initially produced to the Committee, IRS attorneys had redacted limited portions of the document with a stamp identifying the material as “6103,” or private taxpayer data.
Although Republican Committee Members had this email for weeks, they did not ask IRS officials for an explanation of the redactions prior to the hearing on Wednesday, which would have been standard practice in preparation for a congressional hearing. They also failed to ask Ms. Ingram about the redactions during a seven-hour transcribed interview they conducted with her on September 23, 2013. Instead, they raised the redactions for the first time at the hearing on Wednesday and alleged publicly that Ms. Ingram had violated federal law.
During her testimony, Ms. Ingram stated that she did not believe the redacted portions of the email were in fact confidential taxpayer information, and she urged the Committee to contact the IRS attorneys who performed the redactions prior to producing the document to the Committee.
On October 11, 2013, Acting Commissioner Werfel wrote to Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa and Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings to explain that, as soon as this document was identified at Wednesday’s hearing, he asked IRS career disclosure experts to review the document again. After conducting this review, these career officials determined that the redacted information contained no confidential taxpayer information prohibited from disclosure under Section 6103.
As Mr. Werfel wrote, “Based on the totality of the discussion in the e-mail chain, our attorneys determined that the information contained in these documents is not protected by section 6103 and may be disclosed.”
As a result, the IRS has now provided the full, unredacted document to the Committee, and Committee staff have confirmed that it includes no information covered by Section 6103.
Mr. Werfel explained the mistaken markings on the document previously produced to the Committee by noting that the IRS has taken a “cautious approach” in its effort to comply with Congressional requests for information and to keep private taxpayer information secure. Mr. Werfel wrote:
“This area of the law is quite difficult and necessitates detailed document review which is made more difficult when the redactors operate without the factual context. Because of the effort to provide large volumes of documents to Congress very quickly, and thus review them very quickly, our disclosure law experts who oversee and execute these redactions generally take a cautious approach in order to protect the confidentiality of tax return information.”
In response to these actions, Ranking Member Cummings issued the following statement:
“Republicans have been attacking Ms. Ingram unfairly for nearly a year, and this latest episode demonstrates how desperate they are to try to smear her integrity for political reasons. A simple telephone call before the hearing would have resolved any question about this document. At the very least, Republicans should have given Ms. Ingram the courtesy of asking her about this email during her interview instead of recklessly accusing her of violating federal law at a public hearing.”