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Published: Monday, 6/10/2013

IRS targeting linked to Republican staffer

Worker: Scrutiny wasn’t political

BLADE NEWS SERVICES

WASHINGTON — A self-described conservative Republican who is a manager in the Internal Revenue Service office that targeted Tea Party groups, told investigators that he, not the White House, set the review in motion, the top Democrat on the House watchdog committee said Sunday.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) released a partial transcript of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform interview with the unnamed manager in the IRS’ Cincinnati office.

In the transcript, the manager said he and an underling set aside “Tea Party” and “patriot” groups that had applied for tax-exempt status because the organizations appeared to pose a new precedent that could affect future IRS filings.

The employee said the extra scrutiny for Tea Party groups’ tax-exempt status was an effort to be consistent in reviewing applications and not driven by politics.

“He is a conservative Republican working for the IRS. I think this interview and these statements go a long way toward showing that the White House was not involved in this,” Mr. Cummings said.

“Based upon everything I’ve seen, the case is solved. And if it were me, I would wrap this case up and move on, to be frank with you,” Mr. Cummings said.

In the five-hour interview last week, the manager said one of his employees brought to him a Tea Party group’s application for tax- exempt status.

The manager said he recognized the political implications of the decision and flagged it for an office in Washington.

Some Republicans have suggested the Washington office initiated the scrutiny.

Republicans have complained the IRS targeted Tea Party groups because they are critical of Democrats and President Obama.

An internal IRS report found the agency improperly targeted the small-government advocates for additional scrutiny.

The uproar forced out the acting IRS chief and put the White House on the defensive against those who suggested Mr. Obama was using the government to go after political enemies.

Sunday’s release of yet another partial transcript was unlikely to quiet those critics.

“The American public wants to know why targeting occurred and who was involved,” oversight panel chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) said in a statement released by his office Sunday.

“The testimony excerpts Ranking Member Cummings revealed today did not provide anything enlightening or contradict other witness accounts. The only thing Ranking Member Cummings left clear in his comments today is that if it were up to him, the investigation would be closed.”

Mr. Issa vowed to press ahead with the investigation.

“I strongly disagree with ... Cummings’ assertion that we know everything we need to know about inappropriate targeting of Tea Party groups by the IRS,” Mr. Issa said.

Mr. Cummings appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and CBS’ Face the Nation.

Oversight committee investigators have now interviewed at least five IRS employees about targeting conservative groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Some employees said they believed that officials in Washington were directing their work, but they didn’t show any direct evidence to support their statements.

Mr. Cummings and Mr. Issa have been releasing portions of interviews that back up their assertions.

But neither has released full transcripts.

The partial transcripts released tend to offer employees’ views on what was happening, not definitive orders directing them to scrutinize closely Tea Party applications.

Mr. Cummings declined to release the full transcript of the interview he posted on Democrats’ oversight Web site.

It was an unidentified Cincinnati IRS worker who reported to the manager, identified as John Shafer by committee aides, who identified the first Tea Party case.

That individual has not been interviewed by the committee yet.

Investigators asked Mr. Shafer if he believed the decision to centralize the screening of Tea Party applications was intended to target “the President’s political enemies.”

“I do not believe that the screening of these cases had anything to do, other than consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development,” the manager answered, according to a transcript released by Mr. Cummings.

Asked if he believed the White House was involved, the manager replied:

“I have no reason to believe that.”

John Shafer could not be reached for comment.

“They wanted to make sure that it was handled in a way whereby when other cases came behind it that were similar, that they would be treated in a consistent way,” the lawmaker said.

Another Cincinnati screener who worked for Mr. Shafer, Gary Muthert, indicated in committee interviews released in part by Mr. Issa, that “Washington wanted some cases,” to review.

Democratic committee staff said Mr. Muthert’s involvement came later, after the initial screener and Mr. Shafer first sought advice from Washington about the legal aspects of the newly emerging cases.



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