June 2nd, 2013
10:14 AM ET
2 years 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. peakprofit

    First of all, the fact that any IRS paperwork is sent to 'Washington' should not surprise anyone, since the principal office of the IRS as well as the TE/GE ( Tax Exempt) offices are located in Washington. Issa loves it when the employees state that they sent something to Washington, when the truth is that they sent it to their superiors – which is exactly what the process is supposed to do. There are perfectly valid reasons to want to review the applications of a cross section of applications, or the specific applications of a certain group. This is what the IRS does. It is the very definition of the bureau.

    There remains no particular connection between any elected politician, and the Washington IRS office. It is important to keep in mind that the head of the IRS was a Bush appointee, and very unlikely to just roll with some devious democratic socialist Kenyan plan. The testimony that Issa has released – one would have to assume what he feels are some 'gotcha' moments – can easily be interpreted as business as usual at the IRS. Keep in mind that the easiest manner for mid level manager A to cover his or her but is to say that the order came from their superior. Especally if that superior is in a different city. But would Issa be so apoplectic if that supervisor was in Omaha? That would not sound nearly as good, would it? "Hey, this order comes directly from Omaha!"

    Seemingly lost in all this nonsense is that the IRS is not obliged to approve any application and do, in fact, deny quite a few. Indeed, the entire reason this situation comes up is the tenfold increase of organizations this past election cycle. It makes perfect sense to say that all outwardly political organizations get grouped, so that the same standard can be applied to all, as opposed to 15 people interpreting the law 15 ways. This would be no different than had they been looking for media companies, car dealers, or dentists.

    June 2, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  2. IRS This

    Wow – the level of ineptitude coming out of Issa is truly scary. The IRS did nothing illegal. The Supreme Court opened this Pandora's box with the Citizen's United case. If all the baggers had applied for the CORRECT tax exempt status – this would be a non story. Just another example of the Tea Party's motto – my way or the highway.

    June 2, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  3. Morerightwingblather

    So now it's supposed to be a scandal that the IRS has headquarters in Washington and that directives from Washington might be relayed to IRS field offices in other states? What Issa seems to be doing here is treating the phrase "from Washington" as if it proves something regarding unethical behavior, when it's far more likely that it simply proves the IRS has a chain-of-command that starts in Washington.

    June 2, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  4. Lou AZ

    The sky is falling, the SKY IS FALLING !
    Since Issa can not cite just what Public Law and what Court these horrible criminals should be prosecuted for and in . . . and thus is NOT Judge and Jury . . . perhaps CNN's crack(?) Legal Team can fill us in on those minor details. Otherwise, this story wouldn't even make the front page of the National Enquirer.

    June 2, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  5. Odo

    Ah more witch hunts from Issa...he wastes so much money and resources on trumped up non-issues he should be personally charged for them instead of using our tax-payer dollars for them

    June 2, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  6. Keeping Them Honest

    The Republicans are barking up the wrong tree. Neal Wolin, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury is their culprit. Schulman is a pawn. Republicans think that if they subpeona documents and testimony through their IRS lawsuits that this scandal will take them to the Whitehouse. They need to put more pressure on Treasury – that is where the targeting orders originated. In a recent legal matter involving Wolin's conduct while General Counsel at the Hartford Insurance Company, Wolin used the same excuses for his behavior "two rogue employees" and "let the facts take them where they may".....except not to him of course. Obama needs to purge Treasury of this behavior and stop believing Wolin's fabrications. Neal Wolin is a wiley lawyer that served as Special Counsel to the Whitehouse prior to overseeing the IRS. Republicans, please do not let Neal Wolin get away with this.....this is criminal behavior that should be investigated by a Special Counsel.

    June 2, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  7. Gordon

    We're watching huge erosions to our government and yet there are chuckleheads who would be glad to see it all go down the toilet as long at they get to stick it to republicans. You really want to cheer on government harassment of dissent? You're gonna love it when the pendulum swings the other way. Let's put our bs agendas aside and keep rule of law in place.

    June 2, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  8. TheTraveler

    And the band played on ...

    Issa has nothing PROVABLE at all. He says on the one hand he's not making allegations, then turns around and spouts his "conspiracy from the White House" rhetoric. Fool.

    June 2, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  9. Vijay

    All republicans want to have is to score political points. Truth will be revealed and most of the so called tax exempt given to conservatives organizations had exploited the IRS 501 c 4 status. All these conservative organizations (sponsored by Sheldon Adelson, Koch, Karl Rove and many billionaires) had political motives behind getting the exempt status. Izza should be booted out of Washington. Since 2011, republicans wasting time in hearings rather than focusing creating jobs and bring back the jobs back to USA. All they (Republicans) want is to impeach Obama for these so called scandals. To me, AP scandal is bigger than any other one. Our bridges are crumbling, no transportation bills. Obama had a bill which will fix bridges and highways, which republicans filibustered it. God bless America and rescue from these stupid idiotic guys from republican party.

    June 2, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  10. Draeggo

    Issa need to go. He obviously does NOT understand what its like to work under supervisors that give you no choice. His attitude of they should have become whistleblowers ruins his credibility because we all know what happens to most whistleblowers. We need someone in charge of this investigation that is a decent person that knows what they are doing and that leaves out congress in general.

    June 2, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  11. Tony Torres

    I would believe what Issa proclaims but his track record of being partisan is very much his agenda, so in that light I find hard to believe anything Issa & his ilk allege. What we need is a real bipartisan panel to look into this IRS (& any other) inquiry that way we can all believe what comes out of this idiot's mouth with absolutely no proof. We need honest & bipartisan answers, not just things he can pin on Obama.

    June 2, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  12. mec

    It's cute watching the Dems and Liberals do what they do best on this forum: Deflect from the truth.

    June 2, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  13. Tony

    What is wrong with the IRS paying more attention to conservative groups? More conservative groups than liberal groups applied for 501c4 status, even though they are only for social welfare groups, so why shouldn't the IRS pay more attention to them?

    These conservative groups are trying to cheat on taxes. Shouldn't Congress investigate? I thought House Republicans love investigations. Actually, House Republicans should be investigated for investigating only Democrats. Someone higher up must be directing House Republicans to target only Democrats. This needs to be investigated.

    June 2, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  14. CN Pearson

    Issa? Does he have a SHRED of credibility? Why does this rabid anti-American conservative get ANY publicity?

    June 2, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  15. Johan S

    Someone let the GOP know that Obama isn't running in 2016.

    June 2, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  16. don in albuquerque

    @wow man-Issa not a criminal??? Arson, weapons charges, car theft??? I would like to see a hearing on this and prove or disprove it, and then send to to prison or GOP daycare.

    June 2, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  17. Bob

    The IRS is Guilty all the way. Iam still waiting on my refund for using my retirement to keep my primary residence. They can not charge you the early withdrawal penalty, if you use it to keep your primary residence. I was told by an IRS representative this month, to go ahead and sue us. Iam a senior citizen, and I deserve better treatment then this. This has been going on since 2009, I wrote the white house twice, was in contact with IRS field Director in Atlanta, Compliance Managers in Andover, and the IRS commissioner. I will be paid my refund. The gov't owes it, otherwise it is theft on the 1% of Americans. Stop the bull, quit throwing me under the bus, and pay up deadbeats. Maybe we dont need the IRS any more, just a Flat Tax. What do you think???

    June 2, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  18. Will S

    "My gut tells me" I'm hungry...it doesn't tell me about conspiracies in Washington.

    June 2, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    There is a lot of blind ignorance showing up in posts. Seems a lot blame Republicans. When Obamacare kicks in next year, remember it was the Republicans that voted to repeal it 37 times. This investigation will go to the top. It was stated that Romney was the only one that could beat Obama. The only way Romney could lose is by dirty orders given to the IRS and voter fraud, to name a few. I wish Obama would volunteer to take the truth serum and answer questions. The truth would set him free.

    June 2, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  20. Gregory L. Faith

    Time to clean house once again. Nixon went and now we are facing another corrupt Washington. Are we just going to sit back and allow this to happen and no one loses their job over it? Most certainty not. We need to go to the streets and protest again! Who is with me?

    June 2, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  21. Skarphace

    Issa "points to the interview, in which one of the employees named an IRS attorney in Washington, D.C. who was heavily involved in the process of applying further scrutiny to conservative groups."

    "An IRS attorney in Washington" is not Washington. By saying Washington, the implication is that it came from the White House. Issa is drawing a false conclusion.

    June 2, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  22. Jeanne

    I'm so disgusted with Issa. He can't do anything worthwhile for America, so he tries to bring down the President. What a jerk. He looks so stupid.

    June 2, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  23. Operations

    Issa is starting with a desire: "I want this to have started with Washington."
    .
    Then he says that he can't see how it couldn't have started with Washington."
    .
    He "talks with employees", and hears that it must have come out of Washington."
    .
    Now he says it must have started with Washington.
    .
    But no proof. Just a desire, a bias, and a decision based on the desire and the bias.
    .
    Hardly a reasonable investigation, there.

    June 2, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  24. Tony in Maine

    Issa promised wall to wall continuous investigations if he became chairman of his committee. This was before anyone dreamed up the scandals du jour. Motivation, r. Issa. I think your only motive is to tie up the President and his people in so much BS, nothing can get done.

    Truth, Mr. Issa, please. I know that's anathema to a partisan Republican, but truth please.

    June 2, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  25. Quixote

    How long until he pulls a sheet of blank paper out of his vest pocket and claims it is a list of known comminists in the state depament?

    June 2, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
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