The Democrats have joined the release-partial-transcripts-from-IRS-interviews game, dropping a memo outlining how a Republican IRS manager in Cincinnati identifies himself as the origin of the Tea Party controversy. Partial transcripts should be taken with a grain of salt — but the IRS apparently keeps sanctioning people anyway.
The transcripts stem from a series of interviews conducted by the House Oversight Committee, for which Rep. Darrell Issa of California acts as chair. As we noted last week when Issa released selected portions of the interviews (yielding some press attention), partial transcripts do not provide a complete picture. We cannot say this enough, and will say it again in a bit.
Those initial releases, which can be seen here, heavily emphasized suggestions that the Cincinnati team had guidance from people in Washington. One staffer quoted in a Wall Street Journal story said, for example, that he'd been told by a supervisor that "Washington, D.C., wanted some cases," raising questions but offering few answers.
Now we hear from one such manager. The memo presented by Issa's Democratic colleagues starts with the identification of this as yet unnamed person, who they quote to suggest that he began the process of setting aside Tea Party cases. The Cincinnati group is responsible for determining if applicants for a certain type of tax-exempt status, 501(c)(4), exceed limits on political activity. This manager, who the Associated Press says was interviewed last week, apparently determined that Tea Party groups collectively warranted a closer look.
An agent brought a Tea Party application to the manager's attention. That application indicated political activity, but not the extent to which it occurred. The manager sent an email to his boss in Cincinnati, reading, in part, "I will hold this case for a decision concerning this type of organization [Ed. - meaning, Tea Party groups] may be considered a 'High Profile Case'." His supervisor agreed.
The committee's investigators inquired about the nature of "high profile cases" — which isn't clearly defined — and the manager suggested that for such cases, ensuring consistent treatment is the goal. "Now, is it prudent for us to then make sure, for consistency purposes, that these cases are worked by the same folks or the same group? The determination was yes, it is," he told investigators.
The manager's team in Cincinnati developed criteria to collect those cases for the group. An agent describes how he decided to focus on one aspect:
And I used "patriots," because some of the Tea Parties wouldn't-they would shorten their name to TP Patriots. I thought, okay, I will use "patriot." And I would see TP Patriots. So even though you think there is two entities, it's really justone. And the 912,whenever you looked at the Websites, you would see the--these other organizations. So I said, okay, I will use these to find the Tea Parties. At one point I used the word "tea," but T-E-A doesn't get you very far because TEDS might have 5,000 entities in there. Teachers. So I had to watch my queries and zero in on what I wanted.
The manager subsequently put together an email noting the four criteria identified in the Inspector General's report as the ones used to set Tea Party applications apart. That email eventually made its way to the department head, Lois Lerner, who asked that the criteria no longer be used.
The Democrats' excerpts are very clear about the manager's politics. He identifies himself as a "conservative Republican," and replied in the negative to questions about whether or not political motivations or instructions from the White House played a role. "I do not believe that the screening of these cases had anything to do other than consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development," he told investigators.
On Sunday, the minority ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, discussed the memo on cable news, as reported by the Washington Post:
“Based upon everything I’ve seen, the case is solved,” Cummings said Sunday on CNN. “And if it were me, I would wrap this case up and move on, to be frank with you.”
That's premature. At some point, we can assume, the full transcripts will be made public, perhaps after the committee is done conducting interviews. (The memo indicates more interviews and document review are yet to come.) Until then, it's premature to assume that every detail has surfaced — particularly when those doing the surfacing each have a political outcome in mind.
The IRS is not waiting for the results of the investigation to do a little housecleaning. According to the National Review, Holly Paz, who Issa suggested knew about the targeting a year before it became public, was reportedly replaced. Paz had served as the director of the department's Rulings and Agreements section. Paz joins at least two other department officials in departing the agency or being placed on administrative leave (her status is not clear).
Read the complete memo from House Oversight Democrats.
Photo: Rep. Cummings speaks during an Oversight hearing. (AP)