Hatch Slams Administration for Undermining Bipartisan IRS Investigation
In Speech, Utah Senator Says, “I want to call on President Obama and Secretary Lew to stop closing the door on this investigation. If this is indeed a phony scandal, the burden is on them to prove it. They should have the IRS produce all the requested documents and let the documents speak for themselves.”
WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor today, Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) slammed the Obama Administration for undermining the Committee’s bipartisan investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) targeting of conservative groups who filed for tax exempt status. Both the President and Secretary of Treasury in separate statements have charged Congress with creating “phony scandals.”
“I want to call on President Obama and Secretary Lew to stop closing the door on this investigation. If this is indeed a phony scandal, the burden is on them to prove it. They should have the IRS produce all the requested documents and let the documents speak for themselves,” said Hatch. “Let them show how the targeting began and why it continued for years. Let them show who was or was not involved and to what level within the IRS or elsewhere in the government these activities were discussed and directed. Until then, this is not a phony scandal, it is a legitimate bipartisan investigation being conducted in a fair and balanced way that seeks to let the facts dictate the outcome.”
Below is the text of Hatch’s full speech delivered on the Senate floor today:
Mr. President, I rise today to talk about the status of the ongoing Finance Committee investigation into the targeting scandal at the Internal Revenue Service.
As you can tell, my voice is a bit hoarse this afternoon, and I’m feeling a little bit under the weather. But, with the Senate about to go into recess, I thought it was important that I say a few words about this investigation, particularly with some of the statements we’ve heard coming from the administration this week.
In May, when the news broke that the IRS had been targeting conservative organizations applying for tax-exempt status with additional scrutiny, President Obama promised that his administration would fully cooperate with Congress in its investigations. He also stated that he directed Treasury Secretary Lew to follow-up on the IRS’s Inspector General audit to get more information as to how this happened and who was responsible and to make sure that the public understood all the facts.
I was encouraged by this initial response.
As you’ll recall, Mr. President, I worked to clear the way for Secretary Lew’s confirmation here Senate, even though many of my colleagues had expressed legitimate concerns about his nomination. I did so, in large part, because I believed him when he promised to be fully transparent and cooperative with Congress. When the President said that he’d ordered the Secretary to get to the bottom of this, I expected him to live up to his promises to do so and to work with us as we tried to do the same.
Imagine my surprise then to hear both the President and Secretary Lew state over the past week say that, with our investigations into the IRS targeting, Congress was creating a “phony scandal.”
It started with the President, who said, “With this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington is taking its eye off the ball. And I'm here to say, this needs to stop.”
That was followed by Secretary Lew stating on the Sunday shows this past weekend that: “there is no evidence that this went to any political official,” and that Congressional investigators efforts to find evidence is “creating the kind of sense of a phony scandal.”
So, in essence, Mr. President, they’re saying that our efforts to look into this mess are illegitimate and that the American people should simply ignore them.
That’s a far cry from the position the President and his administration took when this scandal was made public. Like I said, at that time, they were contrite. Officials were even apologizing for what went on at the IRS.
Today, however, it’s a “phony scandal.” It’s not worthy of the public’s attention.
I just have to wonder what they’re basing their dismissal on. Certainly not a thorough review of all the relevant documents, that is for sure.
In a letter to Congressional leaders on June 4, Danny Werfel stated that the IRS had collected some 646 gigabytes of raw electronically stored information which is equal to 65 million pages worth of documents relevant to this investigation. However, to date, only about 21,500 pages the documents have been produced to the Finance Committee to fulfill our comprehensive document request from May 20.
The pace at which documents have been provided to our committee has been slow and often with long delays in between document productions.
So, despite their initial pledges to be cooperative and responsive, the Obama Administration has been slow-walking the Senate Finance Committee.
And we are not the only ones being slow walked.
Just last week, my colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee, Chairman Dave Camp and Ranking Member Sander Levin wrote to Danny Werfel, who is currently the Principal Deputy IRS Commissioner, that at the rate the IRS is producing documents, a full and responsive production will take months.
It’s actually much worse than that.
As this chart illustrates, given the intermittent pace of document production and the very small number of priority documents we’ve received thus far, it could be 2016 before we would ever be able to draw any conclusions about what happened at the IRS.
I have a feeling that’s exactly what this administration wants.
Since the initial report confirming the inappropriate targeting was released by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration—or TIGTA—on May 14, this “phony scandal” has evolved from what the IRS first claimed was a couple of rogue employees in Cincinnati to direct IRS involvement from high level officials in Washington, D.C., including, at the very least, individuals in the IRS chief counsel’s office. And I should note that the IRS Chief Counsel is also an Assistant General Counsel in the Treasury Department, and he reports to Treasury’s General Counsel.
Clearly, much more needs to be learned about who was involved, why decisions were made, and what motivated those decisions. That is why, here in the Senate, the Finance Committee has been conducting a thorough, balanced and fact-based bipartisan investigation that carefully examines every aspect of this in order to get to the truth.
We are not interested in some perception of the truth based on limited documents and limited facts. We want to know precisely what happened, and we’re going to find out.
To date, in addition to the small number of documents we’ve been able to review, the Finance Committee investigators have interviewed fourteen individuals from IRS offices in both Cincinnati and Washington, D.C.
So far, those interviews have yielded more questions than answers. In fact, the list of additional questions keeps growing as the investigation wears on.
After more than two months of investigation, here are just a few of the questions I have:
Once Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin learned from Inspector General Russell George of the TIGTA audit regarding IRS targeting of conservative groups on June 4, 2012, did he tell anyone else at the Treasury Department or the White House, including then-Treasury Secretary Geithner?
When did Assistant General Counsel for Treasury William Wilkins, who also holds the title of IRS Chief Counsel, first find out that the IRS was targeting conservative groups? Who did Mr. Wilkins inform about this targeting when he found out?
What was the extent of the Treasury Department’s role regarding Lois Lerner revealing, in response to a planted question, that the IRS had targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status at an American Bar Association conference?
When did any employee of the Treasury Department first have involvement regarding the IRS targeting of conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status?
What was the first date that any White House official was informed about the IRS targeting of conservative applicants for tax-exempt status?
It has been reported that ProPublica obtained private information from the IRS about conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt status. In addition, it has been reported that the National Organization for Marriage alleges that the IRS illegally leaked information about its donors. What action, if any, has been taken by the IRS and the Department of Justice with respect to any IRS employee who may have illegally disclosed private taxpayer information in either of these cases?
Are there other cases where a conservative group or its members have had their private taxpayer information unlawfully disclosed?
It has been reported that the IRS attempted to impose gift taxes on donors to the conservative group Freedom’s Watch. Did the IRS attempt to impose gift taxes on the donors of other tax-exempt groups?
Has the IRS targeted individuals for an audit of their personal tax returns, based on their membership in, or donations to, a conservative tax-exempt group?
It has been reported that Lois Lerner communicated with an attorney at the Federal Election Commission regarding a case before the FEC. Did Lois Lerner violate section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code dealing with the protection of taxpayer privacy in her communications with the FEC?
Why did Sarah Hall-Ingram, who is in charge of the IRS’ efforts in implementing Obamacare, attend a meeting with then-IRS Commissioner Steve Miller in May 2012 regarding the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status?
It has been reported in the media that Christine O’Donnell had a tax lien put on her property the day she declared her candidacy for Senate. As part of the IRS internal investigation that the President charged Secretary Lew with conducting, has the IRS examined whether any political candidates were inappropriately targeted?
Much has been made of the employees who have been “relieved of duty” and had “administrative actions” taken against them allegedly in direct response to the inappropriate targeting. Once again, the facts do not add up here as the administrative actions discovered thus far were against lower level employees for actions that were not directly tied to the allegations of inappropriate targeting.
So, my question is: who was relieved of duty? Lois Lerner supposedly was, after she took the Fifth and refused to testify, but even she was able to log into her computer after being allegedly relieved — and she’s still being paid. Who else has been relieved of duty?
What does Lois Lerner know that prompted her to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination?
Former IRS Commissioners Steve Miller and Doug Shulman were both aware of the targeting of conservative groups seeking tax exempt status, and the systematic practice of subjecting those conservative groups to intrusive and unwarranted scrutiny about their activities. Why did they both deceive the Senate by failing to inform us that these practices were going on?
Why did the Tea Party cases sit for months at the IRS through the 2010 election cycle without activity?
Why did Lois Lerner direct the IRS Chief Counsel’s office, an office that was reportedly slow in its response to requests for assistance from other IRS components, to get involved in reviewing Tea Party cases?
Why did the IRS demand that Tea Party organizations seeking tax exempt status provide a list of their donors to the IRS?
Like I said, Mr. President, these are just some of the many questions we have about the IRS targeting scandal. These questions will not simply go away. And, our investigation will not stop until all of them are answered.
Now, just today, we have learned that President Obama has selected a new nominee to serve as the next Commissioner of the IRS. I have to say that I’m a bit surprised, though perhaps I shouldn’t be.
Given the dark cloud that currently hangs over the IRS, I would have thought that the President would have taken the time to consult with Congress before choosing the agency’s next leader. Yet, I am the Ranking Member of the committee with sole jurisdiction over the IRS and today’s announcement is the first I’ve heard of this decision.
I won’t go into the merits of John Koskinen’s nomination today. I have no intention to prejudge him. He’ll be fairly considered by the Finance Committee and his record and qualifications will be thoroughly examined.
But, I want to assure my colleagues that I will demand significant answers from Mr. Koskinen when he comes before the committee.
My purpose will be twofold.
First, we need to get to the truth about what happened at the IRS. And, perhaps just as important, we need to make sure that the Obama Administration is fully cooperating with our efforts.
So, today, I want to call on President Obama and Secretary Lew to stop closing the door on this investigation. If this is indeed a phony scandal, the burden is on them to prove it. They should have the IRS produce all the requested documents and let the documents speak for themselves.
Let them show how the targeting began and why it continued for years.
Let them show who was or was not involved and to what level within the IRS or elsewhere in the government these activities were discussed and directed.
Until then, this is not a phony scandal, it is a legitimate bipartisan investigation being conducted in a fair and balanced way that seeks to let the facts dictate the outcome. I yield the floor.