June 2nd, 2013
10:14 AM ET
11 months 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. marjee123

    This is how the dumb public gets it information up by politicians. First some rabid republican website comes out with the head of the IRS visited the WH 157 times. NOT. The visited about 11 and bi=weekly were scheduled with the people wanted to get the IRS opinion on the ACA. BUT HE DIDN'T SHOW UP FOR ALL THOSE MEETINGS. Now Issa wants to blame the IRS (pushed by President he says) to target conservative organizations. I don't see how asking 70 out of 300 requests was targeting conservative organizations. Look like the republican appointed head of the IRS was targeting the Democratic organizations. While ALL THE TEA BAGS GOT APPROVED quite a few of the Democratic ones did not. Now if your organizations were advocating the overthrow of the government, wanting less taxes or doing away with taxes all together wouldn't you want to investigate them as the tea bags were, keeping in mind they were all approved while Democratic organizations WHO DID NOT WANT TO OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT DID NOT WANT TO GET RID OF TAXES ALTOGETHER GOT DISAPPROVED. If Issa and the right wing manufacturing of evidence did not want to bring down the administration for doing nothing, they sure are at it and by the way, passing laws to benefit the people, fixing the economy , fixing the infrastructure is taking a back seat. They sure want to loose the next election because of all the junk Issa is putting forth the people are really really getting angry. Their base won't be able to save them.

    June 2, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  2. Jonathan Ortiz

    Carl Sagan, who in my humble opinion knew something about the difference between a theory and proof, once said "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". I doubt Congressman Daryl Issa has the IQ necessary to know the difference between theory and evidence, so we will have to forgive him for his profound public ignorance. There is also another saying that I'm sure he would understand "put up or shut up".

    June 2, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  3. ThinkAgain

    What has Issa done for California's 49th District lately? Does he do anything other than make noise and get his face in the news?

    If I were a resident of his district, I'd demand a refund ...

    June 2, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  4. Will

    His gut tells
    Him so ? And that becomes truth? What a tool.

    June 2, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  5. jr

    Spending, Spending, Spending... Fiscal conservative... hearing number 345 and counting

    June 2, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  6. labman57

    Issa doesn't have time to wait for actual evidence to materialize. He has an agenda to complete and a deadline to meet - the 2014 midterm elections.

    June 2, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  7. dee1030

    Let's see, slash education, minimum wages, unemployment benefits, and head start. We know where the GOP's heart really is and it isn't for the betterment of the average American. Issa is just trying to draw attention for these issues.

    June 2, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  8. IRSgate

    Out of the 16,000 applications received, 400 were from conservative or Tea Party groups. Sorting or filtering these 400 applications would not have helped to speed up the process by any stretch of the imagination.

    It is time for the IRS be reformed or deeply curtailed before they end up becoming the gestapo of this left wing administration.

    June 2, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  9. Curious Fellow

    Why are Democrats so scared of the truth? It does not matter what color the President is, that is not the issue. We, the People of this country deserve the highest standards from those we elect to govern. Anything less is cause for alarm. Afterall, it is the People who suffer when the Sh$t hits the fan.
    I do not understand those folk who place color before integrity, color before honesty, color before morality. What is more important in the long run?
    Surely this country of ours deserves far more than just a weak defense of unscrupulous people in the White House.
    I beg of you, let us all be one people again, defend our country from those who have no respect for it and certainaly no respect for those of us that live here.
    Let America once again be ranked as the best place on earth.

    June 2, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  10. Blue

    Issa, is the real culprit. He has been after this president since before he was sworn in. The GOP is foaming at the mouth for something, but this President knows what they are doing and he is not going to fall for their tactics. It is hard to know which GOP lawmaker is the meanest.

    June 2, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  11. James

    I love this country but sone or later people need to get proof behind their talk. The right needs to adopt the saying PROOF WHAT?!?!, because they don't need it, don't want it and don't care about it. Neither does the main stream media.

    June 2, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  12. Steve

    I'd have so much more respect for this fact finding mission if we could get the process done first, all the facts out and people interviewed before we get to the spin and summation phase

    June 2, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  13. wow man

    If issa had broken the law
    In any way dems would have the ropes ready right. Any reason for
    dems to cut slack to issa? None. So quit wasting time bashing him and focus on the real issue at hand please.

    June 2, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  14. James

    sooner sorry

    June 2, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  15. Eric

    bottom line, is that I don't believe that political groups or religious groups should be given tax free exemption, regardless of their affiliation. that is one of those loopholes that needs to be closed.

    June 2, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  16. awlgrip2

    If anyone thinks that the "rogue" agents took it upon themselves without direction from above to target groups...do I have a piece of property for you.......

    June 2, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  17. Nothing At All

    Campaign finance laws need to be tightened. No organization that engages in ANY political activity should be granted tax exemptions. End of Story!

    June 2, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  18. JAB

    Even if its true so what? Its common knowledge these groups want to abolish the IRS and the government anyways. Personally I think they deserve closer scrutiny. They're also the ones who try to avoid paying their fair share of taxes by skirting the laws and bending the rules. We should bring them to their knees. Close the loopholes and make the Apples and Microsofts and Bains play fair like the little guy has to.

    June 2, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  19. CL Bonner

    The IRS looked at my tax record years ago and should I be saying they targeted me. No, that is the job of the IRS to make sure all is fair with taxes for all and that nobody gets a break. So what is the big deal with the IRS looking at those groups of tax payers. Must have something to hide.

    June 2, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  20. anne

    I've seen nothing to show that the IRS violated anything. Many of those parties questioned were looking to set up tax-exempt organizations to be used for political purposes. Isn't that against the tax law? Why isn't attention being paid to the real purpose of many of these organizations?

    June 2, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  21. JohnK

    ISSA is a partisan shill. He has not one shred of evidence linking the DNC or WH to the targeting of applications in fact there were a total of 370 Tax Exempt filings under IRS scrutiny and according to the inspectors general's report 68 of those applications were conservative groups. That in no way implies conservative groups were only singled out. ISSA and the GOP have made a mountain out of a molehill because they believe the mud ISSA throws on the wall of public opinion will stick. I'll say it again ISSA makes me want to puke on the GOP agenda!

    June 2, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  22. Mike Salmusin

    Looking at the rants in the comments section from liberals is just plain scary and void of any intellectual thought...they are part of the Dem's low information voter pool who are too blinded by their own false ideology to see the truth. I find it sad for our country and even more sad for the next generation who will inherit the idiocy of today's liberals....shameful and inept.

    June 2, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  23. No support

    Watching Issa give an interview and opinion about corruption, is like listening to Richard Nixon criticize wire tapping.

    June 2, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  24. bob aussie

    Obama's 2012 re-election campaign is behind this, but Obama still isn't as dishonest and crooked as Nixon was. I hope Issa will stop playing politics and put his energy into reforming the US tax code.

    June 2, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  25. lIb

    What's wrong with having a senior administrator reviewing the teaparty papers? If there is a large number of people or a new party asking to be tax exempt, then I feel it is ok for the upper management to review the requests and see if they are valid. This is what the IRS should state instead of letting Issa look like he is looking for something illegal. I haven't seen anything illegal since no decision was made yet. It's like a new employee placed on probation first until completely checked out.

    June 2, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
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