Top Dem. on House Committee Investigating IRS Scandal May Have Been Involved in Targeting of Conservative Group: Issa

UPDATE 8:00 EST: True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht responded Wednesday to reports that Rep. Elijah Cummings’ office may have prompted the IRS to target her group for additional scrutiny.

“Today’s committee action reveals what we knew all along. Partisan politics and the weaponization of government against opponents of this administration is real and continues,” Engelbrecht said in a statement. “Elijah Cummings has blocked the IRS abuse investigation all along. We now see clearly that two branches of government have colluded to target and silence private citizens.”

“America has come to a tipping point,” she added. “No more lies. No more cover-ups. No more collusion. Enough is enough. Finally, we have a chance for the rule of law to be re-established, thanks to the bold efforts of Chairman Issa and Rep. Jordan.”

She concluded: “We filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Cummings in February. Today we’re amending that filing to include this latest revelation. As I have said in my testimony before Congress; I will not retreat, I will not surrender, I will not be intimidated. I will not ask Rep. Cummings, Lois Lerner, Barack Obama, or anyone else, for permission to exercise my constitutional rights.”

The top Democrat on a House committee tasked with investigating the IRS scandal may have been involved in the targeting of a Texas-based conservative group, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Wednesday.

Citing documents obtained last week, Issa suggested in a memo that Rep. Elijah Cummings’ (D-Md.) supposed eagerness to end the IRS investigation may be due to the fact that the Maryland congressman’s office in August 2012 communicated with the IRS about True the Vote, a non-profit group dedicated to preventing voter fraud.

“The IRS and the Oversight Minority made numerous requests for virtually identical information from True the Vote, raising concerns that the IRS improperly shared protected taxpayer information with Rep. Cummings’ staff,” the Oversight panel said in a statement on its website.

The communications between Cummings’ office and the IRS included Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the targeting scandal. However, Issa’s documents show that she didn’t get involved in the True the Vote matter until January 2013.

The documents obtained by Issa show that Cummings’ staff told the IRS it was interested in obtaining “copies of all training materials used for volunteers, affiliates, or other entities,” from True the Vote.

About five days after Cummings’ office mentioned its interest in the conservative group, True the Vote received an email from the IRS requesting “a copy of [True the Vote’s] volunteer registration form,” “…the process you use to assign volunteers,” “how you keep your volunteers in teams,” and “how your volunteers are deployed … following the training they receive by you.”

Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), left, and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), right (Images source: Getty Images)
Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), left, and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), right (Images source: Getty Images)

Holly Paz, the former director of the IRS exempt organizations office in Cincinnati, later sent True the Vote’s 990 forms to Cummings’ staff.

An email obtained by Issa’s office shows that Lerner at one point asked Paz of the True the Vote investigation: “Did we find anything?”

Paz responded that she had not.

“[T]hanks – check tomorrow please,” Lerner responded in an email.

True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht has testified before Congress about her experiences dealing with dozens of visits and intrusive questions from the IRS and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Explosives.

Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of King Street Patriots, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 (AP)
Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of King Street Patriots, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 (AP)

Cummings has previously stated that his office never asked the IRS about True the Vote, saying at one point in February that the suggestion was “absolutely incorrect and untrue.”

“Although you have previously denied that your staff made inquiries to the IRS about conservative organization True the Vote that may have led to additional agency scrutiny, communication records between your staff and IRS officials – which you did not disclose to Majority Members or staff – indicates otherwise,” Issa said.

“As the Committee is scheduled to consider a resolution holding Ms. Lerner, a participant in responding to your communications that you failed to disclose, in contempt of Congress, you have an obligation to fully explain your staff’s undisclosed contacts with the IRS,” he added

The Maryland congressman has been sent a copy of Issa’s letter, which has been co-signed by Reps. John Mica (R-N.Y.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), James Lankford (R-Texas) and Blake Ferenthold (R-Texas).

The House Oversight Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday to decide on whether Lerner should be held in contempt for her refusal to answer questions regarding the scandal. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that he would be willing to bring the matter up to the House.

Here’s a copy of the communications between Cummings and the IRS:

Here’s Issa’s full letter:

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This post has been updated.