Watchdog Criticizes Justice Dept. Decision to Forego IRS Criminal Investigation

Says many questions still unanswered

Russell George, Gregory Kutz, and Faris Fink / AP
January 14, 2014

A watchdog group is raising additional concerns about the investigation into the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service, insisting that the Justice Department’s (DOJ) decision to forego a criminal investigation leaves many questions unanswered.

The group, Cause of Action, says documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request shed light on an internal audit conducted by the office of Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

George’s audit revealed that IRS officials were applying additional scrutiny to applicants for 501(c)(4) tax status that had "Tea Party" or other phrases suggesting conservative leanings in their names.

DOJ said on Monday that it had no reason to believe, based on TIGTA’s audit, that the IRS acted according to political considerations, and that the FBI would therefore decline to pursue criminal charges against anyone involved.

Cause of Action executive director Dan Epstein said the documents his group obtained, which were shared with the Washington Free Beacon, suggest that TIGTA’s investigation may have been inadequate.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to George on June 28, 2012, expressing concern over reports that the IRS had engaged in what "many are equating to a campaign of intimidation" against conservative groups.

George joined a conference call in August to discuss the letter. Less than a year later in May 2013, TIGTA released its report, which found that the IRS used "inappropriate criteria" to screen 501(c)(4) applicants.

"Given that IG George’s examination of tax-exempt applicant reviews at the IRS was conducted over a period of just a few months—was a thorough investigation of the IRS ever possible?" Epstein asked in an emailed statement.

Even the review that did take place lacked the authority to use investigative tools that might have uncovered wrongdoing, Epstein said.

"Given that IG George chose to forego an investigation and pursue an audit, coupled with no evidence of any meetings with the FBI in IG George’s calendars, is it any wonder that the FBI has been unable to find criminal violations?" he asked.

TIGTA’s decision to conduct an "audit" of the IRS tax exempt division, rather than a full-fledged investigation, deprived Inspector General officials of subpoena power and other tools that might have allowed a more exhaustive look at its practices, Epstein said.

The documents the group obtained also showed a number of meetings with top administration officials during the audit process.

George’s calendar shows meetings at the White House and with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew prior to the audit report’s release.

"Given IG George’s meetings with former White House officials who now serve the U.S. Treasury—Jack Lew, Danny Werfel, and Chris Weideman—was TIGTA’s audit objective and non-partisan?" Epstein asked.

Issa and Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), an Oversight Committee member, also raised the possibility of political factors at play in DOJ’s decision to forego criminal charges.

Barbara Bosserman, an attorney in DOJ’s civil rights division, reportedly led DOJ’s IRS probe, they wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder last week. They noted Bosserman’s long record of financial support for the Democratic Party, and said her position "has comprised the administration’s investigation of the IRS."

"It is unbelievable that the department would chose such an individual to examine the federal government’s systematic targeting and harassment of organizations opposed to the president’s policies," they wrote.

Issa and Jordan pledged to continue their own investigation into the matter.

The omnibus spending bill introduced in the House on Monday also includes language that prohibits the use of IRS funds for activities that "target citizens of the United States for exercising any right guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."