The House has already begun its investigation of the IRS scandal, with Friday’s hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee. The Senate Finance Committee will follow in short order, and it has already issued a “request” for detailed information from the agency about its targeting of conservative groups over the last three years. Ironically, it looks a lot like the kind of request that the agency sent out to those groups, with 41 demands and just 11 days to respond. The letter, provided by a source on Capitol Hill, shows that the questioning is likely to feel a lot like an audit:
1. Provide a copy of any and all questions, questionnaires and information requests used by the IRS to attempt to elicit additional information from 501(c)(3)-(6) applicants from February 1, 2010 to the present regarding their donor lists, volunteer lists, financial support for, and relationships with, political candidates, and any and all other similar information.
That should keep the IRS busy with its self-audit for the next week and a half. Max Baucus and Orrin Hatch are going directly after the Lois Lerner defense, too:
4. How many applications for each tax-exempt status, 501(c) (3)-(6), were filed and processed each year from FY 2005 through the present? In addition, provide the number of people in the Determinations Unit tasked with handling these applications during each fiscal year.
They’re also looking at whether anyone in Congress may have pressured them into targeting the Tea Party:
29. Provide copies of all documents, between any IRS employee and anyone else, including, but not limited to, individuals outside of the IRS, that were generated as a consequence of, or relate to, the letters sent by members of the Congress to the IRS since 2012 regarding the issue of inappropriately targeting organizations seeking 501 (c) (4) status for heightened scrutiny.
A few of the questions focus on the disclosure of confidential applications and records to ProPublica and Human Rights Watch, apparently intended to embarrass political opponents of the administration during the election cycle. But #39 goes for the whole enchilada:
39. Provide documents relating to communications between any and all IRS employees and any and all White House employees including, but not limited to, the President, regarding the targeting of organizations seeking 501 (c)(3), (4), (5), or (6) tax-exempt status for full development or heightened scrutiny based on the existence of certain words or phrases in their applications, from February 2010 to the present. This includes any documents relating to communications received by any IRS employee from the White House or Treasury, whether or not the IRS employee was simply the recipient of such a communication from either the White House or Treasury.
The implications of finding such communications are clear enough. If there’s fire in that smoke, the White House could well claim executive privilege to block Congressional access to it. If that happens, we’ve entered the special-prosecutor zone.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on Sunday said he believed a special counsel to investigate the IRS targeting scandal would ultimately be “necessary.”
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Portman welcomed an inspector general’s report and the launch of congressional hearings, but said there were still many unanswered questions.
“I also think that special counsel is going to end up being necessary here, because it has to be independent of the White House,” said Portman of the ongoing investigation.
“What we do know is that politics was put ahead of the public interest. And it was done in two of the most sensitive areas of our government. One, of course, the tax collection agency, which has this enormous power over all of us.
And second, our national security,” said Portman referring to the Justice Department’s seizure of journalists’ phone records in a leak probe.
“There’s a lot of issues here we need to get bottom of. We need to find out what really happened and ensure that we can begin to regain some trust in our government. That’s my concern,” he added.
I’m with Tom Price on this. It’s too soon to ask for a special prosecutor, and will be until evidence is found of specific crimes above the front-rank level. A special prosecutor will stop these Congressional investigations in their tracks, and might end up stalling accountability rather than facilitating it. Let the committees do their work, even with Democrats complaining every step of the way that free speech is really the big scandal here, as Charlie Rangel and Bob Menendez end up arguing here.