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. nuclear mike

    As the President's "onion" gets peeled the more he resembles King Richard Nixon...impeachment is the only answer to preserve the country, but it took 1 year for King Nixon to fal... so be patient here with President Obama to fall...

    June 2, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  2. wow man

    Some day people will have to earn the right to vote. The ignorance i see on this board regarding the i r s is unbelievable. People want to point the finger and spout non facts about issa is a criminal bla bla. Is it true no it's not. It's the dems way of attempting to draw attention away from facts. Fact is some people will go to jail over this because it's illegal to do what they did. How high up will it go? Will see but it does not look good for the president at all from what i have seen reported on cnn.

    June 2, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  3. Pander Bear

    Typical Issa. Holds a hearing behind closed doors and only releases small excerpts that look like he is proving something. He's a complete jackwagon.

    June 2, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  4. ReaganRepublican

    How does this guy have any credibility after what he did with the Benghazi non scandal? He was making claims like this then also. Wanting there to be a scandal does not make it a scandal Issa. I would bet anything that the White House did not direct people in Cincinnati to do this. These employees came up with this on their own. Their job was to find organizations that were political because that was not allowed. Go do a Google search right now to try to find political organizations. I would search Tea Party, patriots, tax, progressive,american, national. You can see that tea party and patriots are on the top of my list too because they are all over the news. Guess what? The White House didn't give me that list either. There is no scandal and it is getting really ridiculous that people like Issa are still getting interviewed for any reason other than to call them out for their past mistakes. Go back to work making life better for Americans and please shut up about these non scandals. Obama was the first Democrat I ever voted for. You are making a lot of moderates go Democrat so if that is your goal Issa than good job!

    June 2, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  5. NameFrank Deery

    The Supreme Courts' positive ruling on "social
    welfare" groups(PACs), which Republicans use more than Democrats, must have scared
    Obama's power group, who are probably behind pressuring IRS into thwarting Tea Party contributions. Why else did this happen then-not before.
    Issa is on the correct path, which is ironic as the 40th anniversary of Watergate looms!
    I guess Obama, Holder, Emanuel, And Axelrod slept through US History in their school days!

    June 2, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  6. BlueAlliance

    Darrel Issa is a paid operative to bring Obama down.....someone should investagate that!

    June 2, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  7. wow man

    47% are moochers. Living off the government programs has become a way of life for many and that is a fact. Obama won the election by giving more and more programs. That's a fact friends. So what happens when no one will work for a living. No taxes paid. Then what? Is this what you want to leave your children? What a mess.

    June 2, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  8. whitepine

    Yes, Yes let's get more people to fill out forms so that they don't have to pay taxes. Didn't Romney say 47% of Americans don't pay taxes? So just who is paying for our government? Who is paying the salaries of this Congress? So we want a small, cheap government ...just like the products in Wal-Mart?

    June 2, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    This administration needs to stop stone walling and get these issues settled. The investigations will continue until all the information is found. Obama only finds out about the wrong in his administration when it is reported in the news. All of the agencies in the government have been doing what they want since he was elected.

    June 2, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  10. Bayley0402

    Why would believe anything this guy says? Wasn't this the guy who spear headed the recall for Gray Davis and then was flabbergasted when Arnold took the spot instead of him? I thought that we had to have evidence of a crime, not just somebody's opinion.

    June 2, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  11. Anonymous

    marjee123, How misguided you are! The GOP may not be angels, but the other side is delving in evil.

    June 2, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  12. BLE7481

    The headline is wrong. It should not say -
    "Issa: Cincinnati IRS employees say direction came from Washington"

    Just cut the word "Issa" and then it would more accurately reflect the story.

    June 2, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  13. Bill Lomee

    "In all likelihood" and "My guess" are "Staples of the Right-Wing" in this country just like it was when George Bush and his cabinet of bozos said "In all likelihood" and "It's my guess" that Saddam Hussein has WMD's that left American's sons and daughters dead on the battlefield and for nothing.

    June 2, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  14. drphoenixj

    It still makes no sense to me how any organization calling itself Tea Party anything can expect tax exempt status as a non-political group. It's like carrots deciding they're not vegetables any more. They got caught trying to cheat the government. Good for the IRS for scrutinizing liars. This whole thing is absurd.

    June 2, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  15. jboh

    Now that obstruction by filibuster has been exposed, the TEA/GOP is obstructing by investigation of BS accusations by the chronic malcontents in the TEA potty. Time to flush.

    June 2, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  16. Mark

    No one should be tax exempt. Everyone should pay into it.
    All groups,Churches and organzations.

    June 2, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  17. reality

    these arent the proverbial droids youre looking for

    June 2, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  18. Floydzepp

    Poor constupidives, they just can't get any of their invented scandals to stick. They should go back to yammering Solyndra and Furious!

    June 2, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  19. BobInIrvine

    Parse these words carefully: Issa says it's "a problem that was coordinated IN ALL LIKELIHOOD right out of Washington headquarters – and WE'RE GETTING TO PROVING it."

    Translation: Issa's got nothing, but will continue interminable witch hunting until he finds something else to whip into a scandal.

    June 2, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  20. Dennis

    Good news Truthers, You have a new conspiracy.

    June 2, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  21. DB

    OK, everyone can see the Democrats and the Republicans get along as well as water and oil mix. Why not have all the Republicans just stand down and go away and let the Democrats do what they want to do for the next three years and then look at the results. We let the chips fall where they may and see what benefits or disasters come out of only the Democrats doing what they want unchallenged at any level and at anytime. Then the Public can choose which party is helping and which party not helping them and make a choice which way they want to go. Let the Democrats rewrite the constitution, enact new laws, take our rights away, throw more taxes at us, send more of our money overseas to countries that really don't like us if that is what they want to do. Let them increase poverty here, send jobs overseas, cut our jobs, bring in more illegal aliens to support and give them our jobs. Let the Democrats increase our national debt freely as they see fit. Let the Democrats devalue the dollar with excess spending, inflation, and defaulted loans to organizations that are on the verge of bankrupty. In other words let the run the show and then after the next three years we get to look back and see how well or bad they do and the only fingers that can be pointed would be at each other if things are bad and if they are better, then good ol' back pants for a job well done.
    As for the Republicans, well just stand back and stay quiet until it is our turn to give it a try and then they should also be afforded the same polices and actions while the Democrats stand back and let them muck up things as well.
    Let the chips fall where they might and then we get to see what really happens and who is responsible for the actions of our crazy leaders in Washington DC and else where.

    June 2, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  22. jbowen82

    About 90% of the negative posts here follow one of three talking points: 1. Attack Congressman Issa personally, citing allegations of crime. 2. Nothing to see here, move on and do the people's work, Republicans are just being obstructionists. 3. This isn't proof of any wrongdoing, it's weak insinuation. And they almost seem to rotate among those three memes. And none of them actually add any information or respond substantively. Interesting, to say the least. It's almost as if a group of paid or volunteer bloggers got their instructions from Alinsky Central with three talking points and have been told to go flood the Internet. Let's see how this plays out on other comment fora.

    June 2, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  23. Paul

    Ok, let's get back to the big picture. Tea party groups SHOULD be set aside for review. They are political by nature, and not eligible for tax breaks. It's like taking out an ad calling yourself a drug dealer and being surprised when the police show up. This is a waste of time. Besides, left and centrist groups were also audited, based on the same criteria. Should Karl Rove's group be tax exempt? Not in a millions years. Use your brains people.

    June 2, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  24. Keith Long

    Any evidence either way is going to be word of mouth. Anything incriminating on paper has long since been destroyed.

    June 2, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  25. Barry In Las Vegas

    It has become abundantly clear that the Inspector General who conducted the investigation and testified before congress is involved in the cover up himself. His report said only 2 low level employees in Cincinnati were involved – so who is he covering up for?

    June 2, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
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