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. carlos

    some idiots posting here still believe the CON issa, check him out and you'll find the real issa......he still might go to jail...

    June 2, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  2. Ken Barr

    He is making this political by his statements. Direction could have come out of Washington however until there is more direct evidence he should keep his mouth shut. Issa is loosing any credibility if he ever had it. This should be about government over reaching and not political posturing for upcoming elections or the next presidential election. His public statements continue to omit and avoid implicating any Republican involvement. Taxpayers have a right to know involvement of all parties involved whether Republican or Democrat.

    June 2, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  3. Azzy

    Shouldn't our elected representatives have even a shred of actual evidence before hurling wild accusations around?

    June 2, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  4. Gary

    Issa says the trancripts will be made public, just as soon as the White Out drys.

    June 2, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  5. I Am God

    Wow the profiler called Clueless chose his name well since he is absolutely clueless. I take it you don't get away from your computer very often do you? If you did you wouldn't be spouting such a baseless statement.

    June 2, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  6. BO Lies

    What did the president know and when did he know it?

    June 2, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  7. DC Johnny

    Fact: Discrimination was used to disproportionately apply laws based on political association.

    Aftermath: Obama labels such actions as inappropriate and reprehensible.

    Result: Liberal commenters continue to use the argument "but these groups shouldn't be tax exempt" as if neither of the above statements registers in their feeble minds.

    June 2, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  8. shane4756

    I find it ironic that the Republicans go on and on about how the federal government does not enforce the laws that are already on the books. Yet, they apply a different standard when the government tries to enforce violations by political organizations using 501 (c) 4 corporations for political purposes rather than social improvements, as 501 (c) 4 filings were originally intended. The hypocrisy is so blatant, it stinks. The Republican Party seems to be able to do whatever they want with total impunity for their lies and deception as long as it discredits America's first black president. If the country were allowed to vote to deport all people of color, The Republican Party would lead the crusade.

    June 2, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  9. MJW

    Darryl Issa is an egomaniac pulling at straws. Using the term coming from Washington is to infer/imply that it is from the WH. Nothing in any of those statements said anything wrong happened. The applications were more scrutinized because there was a big influx of these applications due to Citizen United. There had to be clarifications to process them. One person would be assigned them since that one person would become more familiar with each request and notice a pattern or if anything stands out. We do things like that in the Private Sector all the time. I would like someone to do an audit of Darryl Issa's business practices over the years and see what is common to this case. Humility and respect should be the hallmark of Congress not lies and distort ions to suit there bias agenda.

    June 2, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  10. KBNJ

    I'm absolutely astonished by some of the comments on here saying this is somehow OK or the Republicans are on a witch hunt. WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!?! Just remember the sword cuts both ways – If you allow the Dems to control the flow of money into GOP campaigns while they hold the top office, you better believe there will be retribution when the GOP holds it. If this isn't rooted out and dealt with NOW we will become a single-party govt. – better known as a dictatorship. Pick a party, any party – the results will be the same.

    June 2, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  11. Demigod Vadik, CA

    "My gut tells me..."

    ...I bet your gut told you that it was going to be Romney by a landlside too Darrell...

    ...that same gut that told you Saddam was responsible for 9/11...

    June 2, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  12. Flgeeman

    This idiot should be sent to prison for WASTING OUR TAX DOLLARS. Why will someone not arrest him?????

    June 2, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  13. guest718

    Send this guy to talk to Palin.

    June 2, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  14. Steve

    I for one am sick and tired of the Republican can do nothing party. (unless its tax brakes for the wealthy) When our they going to get off there duff's and actually do something except look for ghost under all the bed sheets. They should start looking in there own closets first. And Some one tell me why Obama had to take Impeachment of G.W. off the table before he took the oath of office.

    June 2, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  15. ST

    Is the media going to waste another week on this issue? You call yourself News Agency. What is new here you are reporting? Instead of making judgement to jump onto something beneficial to people, you are continuing to write: he said, she said stories. People must reject this kind of reporting. No wonder the trust in media has vanished completely.

    June 2, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  16. Rosslaw

    Daryl Issa, Mark Stanford, David Vitter, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida-all culpable of felonies, massive lies about their own lives and prioriteis, huge fortunes from massive medicare fraud, among other crimes. And we're to take these pieces of work as examples of the "philosophy" the American people should adopt. I think I'd prefer to vote for the Russian mafia at least on the basis of competence.

    June 2, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  17. Nate

    So... On their own initiative two employees did decided to ask illegal questions... And no one above them is responsible...but the boss takes the fifth .... In order to avoid incriminating herself? She might not have to incriminate herself but she should be fired for not being willing to discuss her actions. The sad part is that liberals are not just as upset. What happens if a republican admin decides to block democratic groups?

    June 2, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  18. Bill

    Here we go.

    For those that still want to shill for the administration regarding this, let me ask you one question:

    If the process was followed fairly, as you claim, why were 500 conservative applications delayed, while only 3 liberal applications were delayed?

    June 2, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  19. Victor

    He is NOT the President anymore.

    June 2, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  20. Nick

    Fascinating what this IRS scandal speaks about and the leftists ignorance as if this is not a big deal. If it were Bush in office and he was abolishing all the occskum groups and socialist left wing agenda there would be an uproar. When BUsh played games I called him out , this IRS scandal considering these morons are going to be in charge of the disaster rolling our way in Obamcare should raise red flags. The basis of these claims and fairly obvious where they came from should worry every American no matter what your party affiliation. But then again blind ignorance is fairly obvious here- and the comments about it being a BLACK president is laughable- HE IS ALSO HALF WHITE morons. I supported Obama in 2008 because of Bushs' transgressions and sorry Obama should get the same treatment- after seeing his rhetoric, demonizing of Americans and blatant hatred for what this country stands for I am firmly against him. So I guess I went from supporter to racist and I guess the same holds true for all black people that spoke out against BUsh.

    June 2, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  21. MJW

    Darryl Issa is a liar. The entire GOP is so bankrupt with their obsession with this president. For all the naysayers on here blaming the president, you and the GOP are just jealous, because you do not have the swagger and coolness, not to mention intellect. Try as you might he has won twice already and if he could run for a third time he would win again. People with common sense do not want any Repubs to represent this country. They are so desperate and it is so sad.Pitiful!!!

    June 2, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  22. Alexis

    Joseph McCarthy rides again! Paranoid conspiracy seems to be a core DNA factor in the Tea-Repulbican Party.

    June 2, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  23. suzy

    Wow everyone posting here seems to be in a state of panick. Yes this information is devastating for Obama, impeachment looks more likely, and no no one cares about Darrel Issa's past. The facts clearly state that direction came from the white house. Sorry, I kind of feel bad for all these liberals posting here. Take a deep breath, try to relax, it is going to get much much worse. I suggest you take up yoga.

    June 2, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  24. Rez

    If you ask me I think the IRS was doing its job. Funny how are politician only focus on finding more problems rather solve the ones we already have.

    June 2, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  25. TNPatriot

    When will the American people wise up and vote out the gop in congress. I mean really, they appoint a criminal (Issa) to investigate wrong doing, and that is on top of appointing Bachmann to the "Intelligence Committee". Of course these are also the same folks that elected a drunk to be "weeper of the House".

    June 2, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
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