June 2nd, 2013
10:14 AM ET
9 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.”

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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. DaleInNC

    This is really simple. There would be little reason for two "rogue" agents to just start targeting conservatives. They are government employees who just want to do their job and go home. Common sense says that their supervisor gave them direction and likely that person and their supervisor have no desire to jeopardize their jobs for short-term political gain.

    This leads, easily, to the conclusion this came from "on high". I mean really ....

    June 2, 2013 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  2. midgick

    As an old time GOP right winger, I am reminded of the McCarthy era. This man is dangerous, stupid and indicative of the mental giant thinking of the "New GOP" Party. Are you so scared that you have aleinated the majority of America and that you stoop to such garbage as throw so muck muck on the wall and see what floats???
    Try working together to solve our problems instead of all the hatred and lies. I hate to say it, but despite all efforts of the GOP Party, this Country is getting stronger every day. Just look at Europe and South America and even China.This is the GREATEST COUNTRY IN MODERN HISTORY. Why try to bring it down??

    June 2, 2013 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  3. SoMuchNonsense

    Issa's as trust worthy as a 3 dollar bill with mitch McConnell's face on it.

    June 2, 2013 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  4. cbp

    Hmmm. They are constituents of the Speaker of the House.

    IRS has been a pretty independent group for a very long time. If they overspent than they need to reimburse the government. If they are staying in these expensive rooms then they have to pay just as members of Congress should pay when they check into these fancy rooms.

    When other groups filed for tax exempt status and their applications were not dealt with for a year they were told that the IRS rarely approves an application in less than a year. Of course, tThis was during the Bush years. It has happened before and it will happen again because those who work at the IRS are human beings who make mistakes and they have some biased notions as well.

    Once again we are spending time and money on these investigations. We should know how much these investigations are costing the American people. For sure there are aides assigned to these committees who do most of the investigating and they must be paid, they must have health insurance, they must have offices, they must have administrative assistants.

    We have watched these investigations too many times not to know that much of what is stated is overblown. The hearings last way too long and then Congress neglects the business in front of them. Right now we are viewing a do-nothing Congress again. They are rehashing old ideas and they certainly are not doing the country's business.

    June 2, 2013 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  5. midgick

    One last thought. The last Democratic President left us with a healthy surplus. The last GOP President left us in the hole for over a trillion dollars. This is fairly simple folks. If you are allergic to Chocolate and you could die from it, then why in Gods name would you continue to eat it??

    June 2, 2013 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  6. Knghtshingrmour

    I'm sue the worst Valerie Jarrett ever said was the line from the movie Clear and Present Danger "the course of action I suggest is a course of action I can not suggest", wink wink (oh excuse me she had lint in her eye and it was not a wink). Nixon two point 0

    June 2, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    If we just get rid of the IRS and just go with the flat tax or fair tax we would not need them anymore

    June 2, 2013 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  8. Jack Roses

    What do you know? More grandstanding by Issa. This guy must not have gotten enough attention as a child.

    June 2, 2013 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  9. Pete

    Boy everyone forgot about Reagan firing airtraffic controllers because of unions ...Bush hiring over 50,000 new IRS agents to bust up unions with illegal audits...Bushs even against the SCOTUS had wiretaps and other illegal programs put in place under Homeland Security,Patriot Act but nothing done right Issa,no committes ha hypocrites!!Murdochs boys seen as guilty in Britain with buying classified info from rogue government employees and reporters jailed,resigned after that one and you'd think Murdoch would get smart,but he didn't did he ...Issa now going after Holder after he publicly botched up FAST,FURIOUS witch hunt that actually started under Bushs term..Why didn't Holder question AG Gonzales or some of the border patrol from the Bushs terms and maybe it would of ended differently right guys...Now Issa is after anything that moves in Benghazi,IRS and more but what's funny republicans haven't finished anything committee wise they started and quess what it'll end that way as well... The IRS has full legal rights to turn down all tea party,patriot groups because they don't adhere to 501(c)(4) IRS guidelines as being social welfare groups that help benefit any community and you know no community has benefitted from them historicly because its just a rouse to launder monies without being questioned much like Citizens United their other creation that Pres.Obama turned it against republicans last election cycle raising more campaign monies,remember kids Pres.Obama and democrates do!!

    June 2, 2013 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  10. Smarg

    Our racist garbage dreg of a POTUS and his AG targeting whites in the Tea Party and at Fox News...shame on them.

    Listening to Rev. Wright sunk in after all thise years, I guess.

    June 2, 2013 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  11. doregroj

    If the IRS is not a political organization why is this story about corrupt behavior under the political banner and not under a broader banner. This is not a political issue.

    June 2, 2013 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  12. ANNIER

    Does Issa really believe that President Obama is overseeing some low-level IRS employees in an Ohio office? Does he really believe that President Obama hasn't more pressing matters to attend to, than this? In a desperate attempt to sling mud, hoping and praying that somehow he can put this mess at the President's feet, is just another stupid, low-level attack on President Obama. Can't WAIT until he tries his hand at POTUS and see the nasty arab-slinging, muslim, al-quaeda connections thrown at HIM because of his arab background! KARMA – bites you right in the behind!

    June 2, 2013 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  13. jillib

    We're supposed to take Issa honestly? The man is not only a political hack, but has a pretty sorted history as a criminal himself. He's shameful.

    June 2, 2013 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  14. George Wiliams

    Just more sickening lies and illegal actions from a government run by a socialist nutcase.

    June 2, 2013 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  15. Larry L


    The IRS targeting ANY group for their party affiliation is an abuse of power and a threat to everyone in this country...period...
    Would it be an abuse of power for the FBI to investigate a U.S.based group called "Anarchists for the Violent Overthrow of America"? We'd know their political affiliation, the title would pretty much show their intention (like Tea Party), and the mission of the FBI is to investigate these things. How is this different?

    June 2, 2013 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  16. Frank

    Now watch the left / communists still defend Obama and his corrupt criminal regime, what a laugh. Still a "Witch Hunt" lefties? OBAMA IS NOW SMOOTH BUSTED FOR THIS! This is 10 times worse than anything Nixon ever did and we haven't even got to the bottom of Benghazi and the AP felonies yet, not to mention the gun running by the DOJ!

    What a nightmare!

    June 2, 2013 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  17. Bluegrass

    So Chief Inspector Clueless-seau has narrowed it down to "D.C." Brilliant! Nice work.

    June 2, 2013 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  18. Yon

    Lol! They want Chaos in the federal government? I hate to break it to you. There has been Chaos for a long time.

    June 2, 2013 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  19. mark

    Issa still sour that he didn't get to be governor of California. He funded the recall of Grey Davis and thought he had it in the bag until Schwarzenegger announced on Leno. He's been crying ever sense. Now he need a new name for himself. He does have a lot of nerve calling the press secretary a paid liar-prove it with facts not partial transcripts. He get to say what ever he wants-He's an elected liar which is worse since he is in charge of figuring out what happened not what he wants to have happened. He's just a pig-but a rich pig with no scruples. He should try harder to tell the truth not lies by omission-maybe congress would have a higher approval rating. Or just go back to the alarm company. Or pay to recall Gov. Brown. He's a loser trying to grow some balls. Nothing I've read shows any malfeasance-even carl roves group applied for this status and they obviously were not eligible due to their political activities-is anybody looking into that? anyway most were approved for tax exempt status more liberal groups were denied. So if this was some giant conspiracy it failed since the IRS followed the rules and allowed the applications. He's a moron.

    June 2, 2013 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  20. RZ

    This whole thing is ridiculous.
    The IRS is not being straightforward.
    It is obvious that this was politically motivated.
    It is time to clean it up.

    June 2, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  21. nomad2003

    either the president knew or did not know...
    if he did not know, he has put together a terrible administration team, who never seem to remember anything, perhaps that is why they did not tell Obama... but they should all be fired for not knowing...
    if he did know, and it is not feasible that he was not told, then this illegal activity was either covered up for 3 years, or started by him...

    June 2, 2013 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  22. Robert

    Please Mr. Issa – get the facts first and then give us the conclusion. Your behavior of spreading rumors and innuendo before research is complete is sickening to all of us!

    June 2, 2013 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  23. Blue

    Issa is a jerk. He said that he thought that he can prove it came from Washington. He is always giving out headline lines that he can not prove.

    June 2, 2013 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  24. Dave

    How can ANY investigation run by Issa be trusted?

    June 2, 2013 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  25. Thatguy371

    Ah yes... Republican Rep. Darrell "Witchhunt" Issa. Nothing more needs to be said. REALLY, Darrell... NOTHING. SHUT YOUR TRAP AND GO AWAY.

    June 2, 2013 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
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