Treasury Watchdog Defends Investigation About IRS Targeting Conservatives

Rejects charges of ‘cherry-picking’ evidence

J. Russell George / AP
July 18, 2013

A top Treasury Department watchdog defended his investigation into the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D., Va.) accused J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), of "cherry-picking" evidence of IRS targeting of tax-exempt applications to understate scrutiny given to left-wing political groups.

Other Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee echoed that accusation at a Thursday hearing on the scandal.

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D., Pa.) criticized what he called "extreme contradictions" between George’s prior testimony and information released since then that Cartwright said shows liberal groups were also targeted for additional scrutiny.

George rejected the allegations, claiming in prepared remarks that his office was not provided with any information from the IRS suggesting that liberal groups were included on Be On the Lookout (BOLO) lists designed to spotlight groups that warranted additional scrutiny prior to the release of TIGTA’s report on Tea Party targeting.

Subsequently revealed information, which Democrats claimed contradicted his initial testimony, "were not provided during our audit," George said.

He also said he was "disturbed" that the IRS apparently did not release all relevant information to his office.

While George noted that TIGTA has yet to conduct a full audit incorporating that new information, TIGTA did conduct "additional analyses" in response to concerns from some on the committee in advance of Thursday’s hearing.

Data initially provided to TIGTA showed that a small number of groups that appeared on BOLO lists had names that suggested liberal political leanings, George explained.

"With respect to the 298 cases that the IRS selected for political review as of the end of May 2012, three have the word ‘Progressive’ in the organization’s name. Another four used ‘Progress,’" George wrote in his prepared remarks.

"None of the 298 cases selected by the IRS as of May 2012 used the name ‘Occupy,’" George added.

Ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), criticized George in his opening statement for not making clear in previous testimony that TIGTA’s audit found no evidence of political motivations by IRS officials who targeted Tea Party groups.

"With all due respect," George responded, "I believe the record shows otherwise."

George pointed to excerpts of previous testimony in which he responded to questions about potential political motives by telling the committee that TIGTA "received no evidence during the course of our audit to that effect."

Committee Republicans accused Democrats of attempting to undermine TIGTA’s findings because they did not like the outcome.

"They’re trying to discredit the inspector general, and I find that offensive," Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.) said.