Records on Taxpayer Leaks to White House to Be Released

IRS watchdog will turn over documents to Cause of Action

Austan Goolsbee and President Barack Obama / AP
November 25, 2014

The Obama administration will soon turn over thousands of documents related to improper disclosures of confidential taxpayer information by the IRS to the White House, a watchdog group announced Tuesday.

On Monday the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) informed the watchdog group Cause of Action that it will turn over nearly 2,500 documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the group.

In a statement, Cause of Action said the number of documents "signals that the White House may have made significant efforts to obtain taxpayers’ personal information."

"This disclosure, following on the heels of TIGTA's admission that it recovered 30,000 ‘lost’ Lois Lerner emails, renews Cause of Action's concerns about the decaying professionalism of, and apparent slip into partisanship by, IRS's senior leadership," Cause of Action said.

Cause of Action filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit after TIGTA refused to confirm or deny the existence of an independent investigation into former White House senior economics adviser Austan Goolsbee’s alleged unauthorized access to the Koch brother’s tax returns.

A federal judge ruled in September that TIGTA could not hide the existence of an investigation it had previously acknowledged.

"The fact that TIGTA has publicly announced that it has investigated unlawful disclosures of, or access to, that body of information protected by statute as ‘return information’ strongly suggests that the fact of an investigation is not, itself, ‘return information,’" the court wrote.

The court cited an Aug. 10, 2011 email obtained by the Washington Examiner from Treasury Special Agent Daniel K. Carney, in which Carney wrote, "The final report relative to the investigation of Austan Goolsbee’s press conference remark is completed, has gone through all the approval processes."

Goolsbee, the former White House Council of Economic Advisers chairman, sparked a mini-scandal in 2010 when he told reporters during a background press briefing that Koch Industries—the company of libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch—paid no income taxes.

Conservative lawmakers and activists said Goolsbee’s statements not only unfairly singled out the president’s political opponents but also used confidential IRS documents to do so.

TIGTA announced in response to a letter from six Republican senators that it was launching an investigation into Goolsbee’s comments and whether he violated the law. However, the report was never released to the senators or the public.

TIGTA refused to confirm or deny the existence of the investigation in response to several FOIA requests from the Washington Free Beacon, Koch Industries, and Cause of Action. The agency general cited a statute forbidding the unauthorized release of any citizen’s tax returns.