June 2nd, 2013
10:14 AM ET
1 year ago

Issa: Cincinnati IRS employees say direction came from Washington

Updated 5:56 p.m. ET Sunday 6/2

(CNN) - In an exclusive interview Sunday on CNN's “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa said interviews with workers in the Cincinnati IRS office show targeting of conservative groups was "a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters - and we're getting to proving it."

“My gut tells me that too many people knew this wrongdoing was going on before the election, and at least by some sort of convenient, benign neglect, allowed it to go on through the election,” he said. “I’m not making any allegations as to motive, that they set out to do it, but certainly people knew it was happening.”

A bipartisan group of investigators from two House committees – Ways and Means, and Government Reform and Oversight – interviewed two front-line employees from the tax-exempt office last week.

One of the employees hit back against accusations that lower-level employees were responsible for the scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status in 2010, telling congressional investigators that the Ohio employees were being “thrown underneath the bus.”

A second "more senior" Cincinnati IRS employee said they began seeking other jobs when they were assigned to look out for applications from tea party groups, because they felt it was inappropriate.

According to excerpts released to CNN by the oversight committee, one of the employees said their supervisor told them the direction to single out conservative groups came from the Washington headquarters in March 2010.

By April, seven hard-copy versions of applications had been sent to Washington, the employee said. In addition, the employee said Washington had requested part of an application by two specific groups, though the excerpts do not disclose the names of those two groups.

Shortly after news of the scandal broke and IRS Commissioner Steven Miller announced his resignation, the IRS said two "rogue" employees in the agency's Cincinnati office were principally responsible for the "overly aggressive" handling of requests by groups with the words “tea party” and “patriot” in their names, a congressional source told CNN.

Issa’s committee released only excerpts and not the full transcripts of the interviews, citing the fact that the investigation is ongoing. CNN asked for the full transcripts, but the committee did not agree to the request. CNN has not seen the full transcripts or the context of the questions and answers.

Read the excerpts below.

However, Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member on the House oversight committee, described Issa's remarks based on the interviews as "reckless" and "unsubstantiated."

“So far, no witnesses who have appeared before the Committee have identified any IRS official in Washington DC who directed employees in Cincinnati to use ‘tea party’ or similar terms to screen applicants for extra scrutiny," Cummings said in a statement.

"Chairman Issa’s reckless statements today are inconsistent with the findings of the Inspector General, who spent more than a year conducting his investigation," he continued. "Rather than lobbing unsubstantiated conclusions on national television for political reasons, we need to work in a bipartisan way to follow the facts where they lead and ensure that the IG’s recommendations are fully implemented."

Cummings' spokeswoman Jennifer Hoffman said it was not "standard practice" for the majority in the committee to keep the transcripts rather than share it with the minority.

"The standard practice would have been for them to provide the transcripts to us when they got them. We have requested them, but have not gotten them," she said.

Issa said the full transcripts would be made public, and he has also subpoenaed the administration for more documents that he says will support claims made in the employee interviews. “As we get those documents ... we will learn the whole truth,” he said.

The oversight committee clarified after the interview that subpoenas have not been issued to the IRS.

For now, however, he has not said he has evidence to verify there was a direct link between Washington and the over-scrutinizing of tea party groups. But he points to the interview, in which one of the employees named an IRS attorney in Washington, D.C. (the name was redacted in the excerpts), who was heavily involved in the process of applying further scrutiny to conservative groups. The employee expressed frustration with the attorney’s “micromanagement,” according to the excerpts.

Citing the decision by IRS tax exempt director Lois Lerner to plead the Fifth in her recent congressional hearing appearance, Issa said “This is a problem that's coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters, and we're getting to proving it. We have 18 more transcribed interviews.”

As the IRS began to disclose information about its admitted mistake, Lerner told reporters that the Cincinnati office, which handles the tax-exempt applications, was overwhelmed with applications in 2010 and began funneling documents from conservative groups into a file that called for further review as a “shortcut,” chalking it up to more of a clerical error.

"It was an error in judgment and it wasn't appropriate," Lerner said May 10 on a conference call with reporters. "But that's what they did."

But two Democratic congressional sources involved in the IRS investigation told CNN's Dana Bash that Issa's characterization of the interviews is misleading.

Their impression from the Cincinnati employees was that the Washington connection the employees were referring to were tax attorney specialists. These individuals answer questions from the tax-exempt division in Ohio about what level of political activity is acceptable for 501(c)(4) status, the sources said.

The tax attorneys work in what is known as the EO Technical Unit–which is in Washington.

According to the sources, an employee identified a tea party case in February 2010 with a problem: The group had checked the box saying it engaged in political activity, but the line agent was not sure how much political activity was allowed for tax exempt status.

(IRS rules dictate that tax exempt groups are allowed to do some type of political advocacy as long as social welfare is their primary activity.)

The employee's question was sent up through the line to Washington, the sources said, where the tax attorney experts were asked to develop future guidance to answer that question, as multiple tea party groups were beginning to take shape in 2010.

The Democratic sources said that's why Washington asked for more cases, like in the example of the Cincinnati employee who was asked to send two specific cases.

However, the sources maintained this was not when the actual targeting began, nor who did it. They're hoping to get more answers in interviews with two other employees next week.

When pressed by reporters in briefings last month, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney–whom Issa referred to as a "paid liar"–reiterated the IRS statement that the activity came from line employees in the Cincinnati office.

Asked by the congressional investigators about the allegations, one employee said, “It’s impossible.”

“As an agent we are controlled by many, many people. We have to submit many, many reports. So the chance of two agents being rogue and doing things like that could never happen,” the employee said.

Further pressed to give a reaction to reports that the blame lies within the Cincinnati office, the employee said: “Well, it's hard to answer the question, because in my mind I still hear people saying we were low-level employees, so we were lower than dirt, according to people in D.C. So, take it for what it is.”

The employee maintained that the office was following directions from Washington. Asked again if the directions to single out tea party applications specifically came from Washington, the employee gave a less certain answer, saying, “I believe so.”

The "more senior" employee told the investigators they were searching for another job in July 2010 after feeling uncomfortable with the task.

“The subject area was extremely sensitive and it was something that I didn't want to be associated with,” the employee said.

Ultimately, Issa said, the employees shouldn’t get a pass.

“Ethically, they clearly knew this was wrong. They should have become whistle-blowers. They should have done something on behalf of the American people,” he said.

The IRS has told House GOP investigators it has identified 88 IRS employees who may have documents relevant to the congressional investigation into targeting of conservative groups.

The agency has so far missed two deadlines to provide documents requested by Congress, but said in a statement Friday that the new acting commissioner, Danny Werfel, is “moving aggressively and taking the data requests very seriously.”

“As a precautionary measure, the IRS is casting a wide net to capture any potentially related materials. Our goal is to be exceedingly thorough during this process to ensure we identify any and all pertinent records," the IRS statement said. "The IRS has received numerous congressional requests involving an extensive set of questions and calls for data. Responding to these requests is a top priority for us. We have been in contact with committee staff, and we continue to provide them updates as we diligently work through these requests."

Read the excerpts below:

One Cincinnati IRS employee interviewed by the Oversight Committee rejects the White House assertion (that the Cincinnati office was responsible) and points to Washington as being responsible for targeting effort (from 5/30 interview):

Q In early 2010, was there a time when you became aware of applications that referenced Tea Party or other conservative groups?
A In March of 2010, I was made aware.

******

Q Okay. Now, was there a point around this time period when [your supervisor] asked you to do a search for similar applications?
A Yes.
Q To the best of your recollection, when was this request made?
A Sometime in early March of 2010.
******
Q Did [your supervisor] give you any indication of the need for the search, any more context?
A He told me that Washington, D.C., wanted some cases.

******

Q So as of April 2010, these 40 cases were held at that moment in your group; is that right?
A Some were.
Q How many were held there?
A Less than 40. Some went to Washington, D.C.
Q Okay. How many went to Washington, D.C.?
A I sent seven.

******

Q So you prepared seven hard copy versions of the applications to go to Washington, D.C.?
A Correct.

******

Q Did he give you any sort of indication as to why he requested you to do that?
[…]
A He said Washington, D.C. wanted seven. Because at one point I believe I heard they were thinking 10, but it came down to seven. I said okay, seven.
Q How did you decide which seven were sent?
A Just the first seven.
Q The first seven to come into the system?
A Yes.

*****

Q Did anyone else ever make a request that you send any cases to Washington?
A [Different IRS employee] wanted to have two cases that she couldn't ¬¬ Washington, D.C. wanted them, but she couldn't find the paper. So she requested me, through an email, to find these cases for her and to send them to Washington, D.C.
Q When was this, what time frame?
A I don't recall the time frame, maybe May of 2010.

******

Q But just to be clear, she told you the specific names of these applicants.
A Yes.
Q And she told you that Washington, D.C. had requested these two specific applications be sent to D.C.
A Yes, or parts of them.

******

Q Okay. So she asked you to send particular parts of these applications.
A Mm¬hmm.
Q And that was unusual. Did you say that?
A Yes.
Q And she indicated that Washington had requested these specific parts of these specific applications; is that right?
A Correct.

******

Q So what do you think about this, that allegation has been made, I think as you have seen in lots of press reports, that there were two rogue agents in Cincinnati that are sort of responsible for all of the issues that we have been talking about today. What do you think about those allegations?
[…]
A It's impossible. As an agent we are controlled by many, many people. We have to submit many, many reports. So the chance of two agents being rogue and doing things like that could never happen.

******

Q And you've heard, I'm sure, news reports about individuals here in Washington saying this is a problem that was originated in and contained in the Cincinnati office, and that it was the Cincinnati office that was at fault. What is your reaction to those types of stories?
[…]
A Well, it's hard to answer the question because in my mind I still hear people saying we were low¬level employees, so we were lower than dirt, according to people in D.C. So, take it for what it is. They were basically throwing us underneath the bus.

******

Q So is it your perspective that ultimately the responsible parties for the decisions that were reported by the IG are not in the Cincinnati office?
A I don't know how to answer that question. I mean, from an agent standpoint, we didn't do anything wrong. We followed directions based on other people telling us what to do.
Q And you ultimately followed directions from Washington; is that correct?
A If direction had come down from Washington, yes.
Q But with respect to the particular scrutiny that was given to Tea Party applications, those directions emanated from Washington; is that right?
A I believe so.

And another more senior IRS Cincinnati employee complained about micromanagement from D.C.:

Q But you specifically recall that the BOLO terms included "Tea Party?"
A Yes, I do.
Q And it was your understanding ¬¬ was it your understanding that the purpose of the BOLO was to identify Tea Party groups?
A That is correct.
Q Was it your understanding that the purpose of the BOLO was to identify conservative groups?
A Yes, it was.
Q Was it your understanding that the purpose of the BOLO was to identify Republican groups?
A Yes, it was.

******

Q Earlier I believe you informed us that the primary reason for applying for another job in July [2010] was because of the micromanagement from [Washington, DC, IRS Attorney], is that correct?
A Right. It was the whole Tea Party. It was the whole picture. I mean, it was the micromanagement. The fact that the subject area was extremely sensitive and it was something that I didn't want to be associated with.
Q Why didn't you want to be associated with it?
A For what happened now. I mean, rogue agent? Even though I was taking all my direction from EO Technical, I didn't want my name in the paper for being this rogue agent for a project I had no control over.
Q Did you think there was something inappropriate about what was happening in 2010?
A Yes. The inappropriateness was not processing these applications fairly and timely.

******

Q You have stated you had concerns with the fairness and the timeliness of the application process. Did you have concerns with just the fact that these cases were grouped together and you were the only one handling them?
A I was the only one handling the Tea Party's, that is correct.
Q Did that specifically cause you concern?
A Yes, it did. And I was the only person handling them.
Q Were you concerned that you didn't have the capacity to process all of the applications in a timely manner?
A That is correct. And it is just ¬¬ I mean, like you brought up, the micromanagement, the fact that the topic was just weirdly handled was a huge concern to me.


Filed under: Darrell Issa • IRS
soundoff (572 Responses)
  1. Marlon 45

    So Washington is directing the IRS! Who's really surprised by this? When money is being used to manipulate Laws our Nation was in trouble, Like the Westerns created by Hollywood, Rich But Evil Men use their wealth to hire killers, Until Hero's like John Wayne would make a stand & fight back, Unlike a Hollywood wrote script, There are no John Wayne's capable of fighting the influence of Evil Men that use their wealth to manipulate those that were elected to lead this Nation, The IRS same as the EEOC was manipulated by that influence & that's the story the Media should be telling the American People, Why do the EEOC pick & chose what cases they'll investigate! Or why was Clarence Thomas rewarded a life time appointment to the Supreme Court, Under him the EEOC became ineffective & the Employees same as those in the IRS are only interested in supporting their families & could careless about their fellow American citizens that was ruined by their failures, America was ruined the moment We the people did not put safeguards in place to punish those that get caught excepting monetary gifts when we're elected to serve our communities or Government

    June 2, 2013 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  2. JohnK

    We have a spending problem in America so we get legislation from the GOP to retain sequestration and austerity instead of spending on infrastructure and creating more construction jobs we have to downsize government, get rid of all those idle servicemen and women who aren’t needed to fight war anymore, put more folks on unemployment through federal furloughs, get rid of Obama care, create drama with the IRS and Benghazi led by California’s poster boy for the GOP Rep ISSA and slam Obama care at every turn because it hold insurers accountable for controlling costs. I’m so fed up with the GOP that I just wrote a letter to all my GOP friends and told them they would not be seeing me visit their business until they get their party under control. I suggest progressives take this personally and boycott their GOP friends and families businesses until we start seeing real good legislation in Congress.

    June 2, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  3. Robert

    This guy won't quit with his political talking points at a hearing where questions are supposed to be seriously asked, so it's no surprise he'd do the same thing in an interview. Is there anything this guy won't turn into a political farce? Try actually doing your job, sir, instead of spending all your time campaigning.

    June 2, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  4. Bran

    The admin is guilty...why would someone meet with the pres over 115+times....
    It is sad that he can be guilty & corrupt (impeach him now...get him out of office)

    June 2, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  5. Bran

    Interesting...many people who are historically in front of the camera are now absent.
    Where is Biden? Why did Obama change his schedule to more public events? He is trying to look like a friendly pres.
    Brian

    June 2, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  6. FromIrvine

    While politicians in Washington are busy fighting each other, foreign companies are taking advantage of the turmoil by taking over our food industry. Hello Washington ... Is your disdain for the other party greater than your sense of obligation to protect the people your are supposed to protect?

    June 2, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  7. DC Observer

    Issa is right there is no recklessness there is no illusion In all likelihood this was coordinated by Obama's campaign .... look for the reelection motive and this stench will likely lead to the Oval Office

    I M P E A C H M E N T

    June 2, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  8. Logic Rules

    Issa has no direct proof, again....burning through taxpayers dollars for what?... an ideological buffoon being a part of the democratic process is on display, ladies and gentlemen

    June 2, 2013 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  9. MJW

    Mr. Bean, Sir! The rest of the world were laughing when Bush was in power. That is why the entire globe celebrated when BO was voted in. Please go back and read all the news around the world. Now they are laughing at the stupidity of the Republicans in Congress. The only people who try to create a scandal in everything are those who are still upset because BO won twice. America will never crumble, you apparently do not know the history of this country. One man does not make this country what it is. It was built my immigrants who came of their own free will, others forced into slavery and still others trying to escape tranny in their country of birth. In any case we all came and joined forces in different ways to build America, it was not just one group. We have all sacrificed for the America we love. It will not crumble but change leads to growth.

    June 2, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  10. Keith Long

    Come on, liberals. Bush was not a great president. In fact I think he was largely a failure, but the "Bush was worse" mantra that you are all using every time something happens to this administration is getting a little stale. Bush has been out of office for going on five years. Can't you come up with something new?

    June 2, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  11. matt

    Wow, isn't this something. A criminal (Issa) investigating others. Google Issa and find out what kind of past this bagger licken (tea party repubLICKEN) has. How did he get elected? Or, better yet, how did he meet the qualifications.

    June 2, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  12. Dan

    The economy is improving.
    The stock market is experiencing record gains.
    The house market is recovering.
    The deficit is shrinking.
    The country is bringing our soldiers home.

    ...and the Republicans have done their best to block all of it. Every single thing. They can take their complete lack of evidence and shove it.

    They can take their phony talking points and

    June 2, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  13. Paul

    Not surprising at all. People also admitted to voting for Obama multiple times and it was swept under the rug. Once a cheater always a cheater!

    June 2, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  14. mg120

    For those that don't see anything wrong with this, just wait until the other side is back in power, which they will be someday. Then they will turn this completely around and target liberal groups. The whole thing is repulsive and should concern every American regardless of party affiliation.

    June 2, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  15. MS

    I suspect Mr. Issa has had inappropriate relationships with farm animals. I don't actually have any evidence of this, but I'm working on it.

    June 2, 2013 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  16. really

    All Bush's fault.

    June 2, 2013 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  17. Sean

    Issa has lost all credability. Can we impeach him for not doing his job?

    June 2, 2013 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  18. RJ Wagner

    Reading the glib and dismissive responses from liberals here about politics-based IRS harassment, and it becomes easy to understand why the IRS did this: they see no problem with it.

    Obama may or may not have been directly involved, but he didn't need to be. His own campaign website posted information about big GOP donors for what other purpose than to try and bully them into silence? When you're on record talking about "punishing your enemies" and "bringing a gun to a knife fight", as he has, his left-wing minions can hear that dog whistle a mile a way.

    June 2, 2013 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  19. James Tetrick

    So you hear all this and your first reaction is to still blame republicans or Darrel Issa because you think HE is partisan? The IRS is silencing political dissent and all you Party Affiliation Zealots can do is point your finger at someone else claiming THEY are being Partisan..... Why dont you just DENOUCE it instead of acting like ANYONE has this treatment coming to them.

    June 2, 2013 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  20. Name

    How does any of this
    Affect national secu
    Rity?

    June 2, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  21. James Tetrick

    The IRS has ALREADY ADMITTED GUILT so quit acting like they Did nothing wrong...

    June 2, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  22. Floydzepp

    Issa is such a tea doof.

    June 2, 2013 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  23. Wayne

    Lost in the "outrage" is the simple fact that the IRS did nothing to prevent these organizations from operating. They could continue business as usual while the applications were pending. Also, the applications were not to be tax exempt. They could declare themselves tax-exempt under other provisions that did not require any approval from the IRS. The specific difference is that they applied for a status that would allow them to not disclose the names of donors.

    Why are these supposed non-political groups so afraid the public will know who is really funding them? Don't forget, both sides use these groups extensively.

    June 2, 2013 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  24. Mike

    "in all likelihood"

    June 2, 2013 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  25. jbjd

    “So far, no witnesses who have appeared before the Committee have identified any IRS official in Washington DC who directed employees in Cincinnati to use ‘tea party’ or similar terms to screen applicants for extra scrutiny," Cummings said in a statement.

    "Chairman Issa’s reckless statements today are inconsistent with the findings of the Inspector General, who spent more than a year conducting his investigation," he continued.

    Translation: the IRS IG conducted an audit, which only aimed to determine whether the agency engaged in political targeting of 'tea party' groups and, in fact, has established that practice; and while no IRS employee has thus far named who in DC issued the edict to target those groups, according to these employees, certainly, the directive issued from DS.

    June 2, 2013 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
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