Confidential tax records of several political candidates and campaign donors were improperly accessed by government officials, but the Justice Department declined to prosecute any of the officials involved, even in one "willful" violation of the law, an IRS watchdog reported.
In a July 3 letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), the Treasury inspector general for tax administration (TIGTA) J. Russell George acknowledged that government officials had illegally accessed tax records of candidates and donors in four instances since 2006.
TIGTA determined that in three of the cases the access was "inadvertent."
"In the fourth case, we presented evidence of a willful unauthorized access to the Department of Justice, but the case was declined for prosecution," George wrote.
Grassley has sent a letter to the Justice Department asking why it declined to prosecute in the case of willful unauthorized access.
"Any agency with access to tax records is required to act with neutrality and professionalism, not political bias," Grassley said in a statement. "The Justice Department should answer completely and not hide behind taxpayer confidentiality laws to avoid accountability for its decision not to prosecute a violation of taxpayer confidentiality laws."
"With the IRS on the hot seat over targeting certain political groups, it’s particularly troubling to learn about ‘willful unauthorized access’ of tax records involving individuals who were candidates for office or political donors," Grassley said. "The public needs to know whether the decision not to prosecute these violations was politically motivated and whether the individuals responsible were held accountable in any other way."
When asked for comment on Grassley’s letter, a Justice Department spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon, "We have received the letter and are reviewing it."
IRS investigators also are looking into two allegations that the IRS "targeted for audit candidates for public office," George wrote to Grassley.
The identities of the victims have not been released.
Grassley’s original inquiry was in response to reports that the IRS targeted conservative groups with additional screenings and audits.
As previously reported by the Free Beacon, there have been longstanding questions about possible unauthorized access to tax documents by former White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee,
Goolsbee, the former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, 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 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.
The Washington Examiner obtained an Aug. 10, 2011, email from Treasury Special Agent Daniel K. Carney, in which he wrote, "The final report relative to the investigation of Austan Goolsbee’s press conference remark is completed, has gone through all the approval processes."
The Free Beacon filed a FOIA request seeking the report, but TIGTA denied the request, saying it could neither confirm nor deny its existence of the report.
"With regard to your request for documents pertaining to a third party, TIGTA can neither admit nor deny the existence of responsive records," said in its response. "Your request seeks access to the types of documents for which there is no public interest that outweighs the privacy interests established and protected by the FOIA (5 U.S.C. §§ 552(b)(7)(C) and (b)(6))."