The Inspector General's office charged with looking into the IRS targeting scandal has denied Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by The Hill pertaining to more than 500 correspondences between their office (known as TIGTA) and various Obama officials and IRS scandal players. Correspondent Bob Cusack reports on the latest stonewall:
The Obama administration is refusing to publicly release more than 500 documents on the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups. Twenty months after the IRS scandal broke, there are still many unanswered questions about who was spearheading the agency’s scrutiny of conservative-leaning organizations. The Hill sought access to government documents that might provide a glimpse of the decision-making through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The Hill asked for 2013 emails and other correspondence between the IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). The request specifically sought emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner and Treasury officials, including Secretary Jack Lew, while the inspector general was working on its explosive May 2013 report that the IRS used “inappropriate criteria” to review the political activities of tax-exempt groups. TIGTA opted not to release any of the 512 documents covered by the request, citing various exemptions in the law. The Hill recently appealed the FOIA decision, but TIGTA denied the appeal. TIGTA also declined to comment for this article.
So in addition to the IRS "losing" and "accidentally" destroying certain communications attached to this scandal, the IG's office is also blocking access to documents that do exist. I discussed these latest developments with AB Stoddard on Fox News earlier today:
Cusack's story goes on to list the various reasons TIGTA cited in refusing to release any of the 512 documents:
In its written response to The Hill, TIGTA cited FOIA exemptions ranging from interagency communication to personal privacy. It also claimed it cannot release relevant documents “when interference with the law enforcement proceedings can be reasonably expected.” Yet, congressional Republicans say there is no evidence of any prosecution in the works, and media outlets have indicated that the Department of Justice and the FBI have already determined that no charges will be filed. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) notes that eight months after Lerner was held in contempt of Congress for not testifying at two hearings, the matter has not yet been referred to a grand jury.
They point to "personal privacy" concerns. If only the IRS had been equally concerned about conservative groups' privacy before leaking donor lists to hostile rival organizations. And if only the IRS were sufficiently committed to privacy that they did not hire back hundreds of employees fired for cause, including improper use of taxpayers' private information. Alas, different rules. Another excuse given is the 'reasonable expectation' of impending criminal proceedings, of which there have been zero indications thus far. As I noted in the segment, one can't help but wonder if there's any connection between the lack of charges and the status of the leader of the DOJ's investigation as an Obama and Democratic donor over multiple election cycles. On one hand, there are no signs of any criminal prosecutions coming down the pike. On the other, the possibility that they might someday materialize is being held up as a cause to deny transparency requests. Neat trick, that. If and when the administration is asked about any of this, they will undoubtedly return to their old playbook, directing reporters to the tens of thousands of documents they've released, like these:
Last week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said the IRS recently delivered 86,000 pages of new documents to the panel. Hatch added, “These documents ... were given to us without notice or explanation roughly twenty months after we made our initial document request [on the targeting].”
You're asking about a few hundred emails over here, but look over there at those tens of thousands of other emails we dumped without warning, nearly two years after they were requested! And of the document drop, who's to say that the most relevant or damning emails weren't deliberately excluded, as was the case in the Benghazi cover-up? I should point out that this lack of cooperation emanates from the Inspector General's office, which is interesting, given the IG's role as a pro-transparency watchdog. We don't know nearly enough to impugn anyone's motives within TIGTA at this point -- recall that Democrats launched a shameful assault on the IG's credibility when this scandal was a front-page story -- but it's not surprising that some Republicans are frustrated. And it's not as if GOP lawmakers haven't questioned TIGTA's practices in the past: When the IRS scandal broke, it eventually became clear that the IG's office and elements within the Obama administration knew of the agency's abuse months prior to the 2012 election, but the scandal's existence was successfully buried until the spring of 2013. Don't forget, incidentally, that the White House's official story on how any when they were made aware of the targeting practices shifted roughly half-a-dozen times before they finally settled on an answer. It also seems worthwhile to note that a separate Inspector General's office came under withering criticism last year for a report on the VA scandal, the findings of which were reportedly watered down following political pressure from the Obama administration.