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Congressional Leaders Issue Subpoenas and Slam IRS for 'Systematic Effort to Delay, Frustrate, Impede, and Obstruct' Investigation of Tea Party Targeting

The IRS “has engaged in a systematic effort to delay, frustrate, impede, and obstruct the Committee’s investigation.”

Demonstrators with the Tea Party protest the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeting of the Tea Party and similar groups during a rally called 'Audit the IRS' outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, June 19, 2013. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Frustrated Republican leaders in Congress levied harsh criticisms against the IRS and the White House for obstructing their investigation into targeting of conservative groups and issued a sweeping subpoena Friday to compel the administration to deliver emails about the scandal.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued a broad subpoena Friday to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that demands all e-mail communications between the IRS and the White House from February 2010 to the present.  

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Photo Credit: AP

“During the past two weeks, President Obama and you have repeatedly labeled the IRS’s strategy of targeting Americans for their political beliefs as a ‘phony’ scandal,” Oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a letter to Lew. “While the Obama Administration has so publicly deflected responsibility for the targeting, it simultaneously has attempted to thwart congressional oversight into the matter.”

Issa continued, saying the IRS “has engaged in a systematic effort to delay, frustrate, impede, and obstruct the Committee’s investigation.”

The committee has subpoenaed “all communications sent by IRS employees to an e-mail address with the domain 'who.eop.gov' from February 1, 2010 to August 2, 2013.” That is the domain for employees of the White House Executive Office of the President. Further, the committee is compelling the release of “All communications received by IRS employees from an e-mail address with the domain name 'who.eop.gov'” for the same period.

The committee is further compelling the Treasury Department to produce all communications to and from Lois Lerner, the former IRS Exempt Organizations chief now on paid leave, from Jan. 1, 2009 through Aug. 2, 2013. Lerner announced that targeting had occurred in May, preempting the release of an inspector general's report. But Lerner blamed it on “rogue employees” in the Cincinnati IRS office.

IRS employees later told committee investigators that the office of IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins, one of two political appointees in the agency, was involved in reviewing tax exempt applications from Tea Party and other conservative groups. The committee has also subpoenaed communications to and from Wilkins from Feb. 1, 2010 to Aug. 2, 2013. Further, the committee is seeking all communications to and from the office of the chief counsel from that time.

Also this week, one day after White House spokesman Jay Carney identified the IRS controversy as what Obama meant when he said “phony scandal,” Obama nominated John Koskinen to be the new IRS commissioner.

On Tuesday, Issa and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, wrote a letter to acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel asserting that the agency has only provided 0.019 percent of documents deemed responsive to the committee's request.

“Indeed, although the IRS initially identified over 64 million pages of documents as responsive to congressional oversight requests, the agency has produced to the Committee only a total of about 12,000 pages, or a mere 0.019 percent of what was initially identified as responsive documents,” the Tuesday letter from Issa and Jordan said.

An IRS statement issued in response to the Oversight Committee letter Tuesday said the tax agency is “aggressively responding” to Congress.

“While the volume of raw data collected – which was 65 million pages in early June – is quite high, it is a misleading figure to use in order to determine the volume of material the IRS will ultimately produce,” the IRS statement said. “The vast majority of it is completely unrelated to the Congressional investigations. Once the data is limited to the time period in question, and the issue in question, we expect the final tally of produced documents will be far lower – in the neighborhood of 460,000 documents or fewer.”

According to the committee, about 2,500 pages of documents are fully redacted and a significant number of other pages are duplicative. Further, the IRS limited the date range for searching for relevant documents from – without consulting the committee – from 81 agreed-on terms to 12 terms, according to Issa.

“While the Committee is willing to work with the IRS to guide the agency in responding to oversight requests, it is patently unacceptable for the IRS to unilaterally revise the scope or search terms used to identify responsive material,” Issa said in the letter Friday.

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Front page photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

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