Washington IRS office played role in scrutiny case: Republicans

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 17, 2013 2:38 PM
Washington IRS office played role in scrutiny case: Republicans

By Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A high-level Internal Revenue Service office in Washington played a role in delaying reviews of some conservative groups' applications for tax-exempt status, according to excerpts of interviews released by Republicans on Wednesday.

The selected excerpts came from mid-level IRS officials in Washington, including one who expressed frustration that the IRS chief counsel's office above him interfered with his review of the applications from Tea Party-type groups.

Carter Hull, a Washington official overseeing the applications after lower-level agency officials sought guidance, said he was "taken aback" by the queries from the chief counsel's office, according to Republicans.

Hull is one of two IRS workers set to testify before the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday. That panel is one of several probing the matter, with Republicans and Democrats interviewing IRS officials privately and then releasing excerpts.

House Republicans leading the investigation on Wednesday wrote IRS acting chief Danny Werfel, seeking more documents including emails between IRS employees, the Treasury Department and the White House.

Involvement by the chief counsel's office "and demands for information about political activity during the 2010 election cycle appears to have caused systemic delays in the processing of Tea Party applications," the letter said.

The controversy erupted in May when an IRS official apologized for the tax agency's extra scrutiny of applications for possible political activity.

It has since become a politically charged battle with Democrats downplaying the case and Republicans trying to pin the IRS practices to the White House.

Groups seeking federal tax exemption can engage in limited political activity, depending on the type of exemption sought. Conflicts between the law and regulations make it challenging for IRS agents.

The head of the office of the chief counsel, William Wilkins, was appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama, who said he learned of the added scrutiny when the news broke in May.

The IRS has said that Wilkins, who oversees an office of 1,600 employees that provide legal advice to the IRS, was not himself involved in the added scrutiny.

A report on the controversy released in May by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration mentioned the involvement of the chief counsel's office. But the excerpts released on Wednesday provide more details and identify the officials involved.

According to another IRS official quoted in the excerpts, Lois Lerner, the IRS tax exempt chief who first apologized for the scrutiny and is now on administrative leave, said that the chief counsel's office would need to get involved.

Lerner infuriated Republicans in May when she asserted her constitutional right not to testify before the oversight panel.

On Tuesday Democrats released a summary of fifteen interviews with IRS employees that they said found no evidence of political motivation or White House involvement.

(Reporting By Kim Dixon; Editing by Xavier Briand)