WASHINGTON – An IRS manager who described himself as a “conservative Republican” told congressional investigators that no one in the agency’s Cincinnati office was trying to target tea party organizations for political reasons, according to an interview transcript released Tuesday.
The manager, John Shafer, said he and an employee in his screening unit decided to pull applications for tax-exempt status filed by political groups and send them to managers in Washington. He said they were aware of the controversy over these groups and wanted to ensure they were treated uniformly.
“Because of media attention that he had seen, he had concerns about this being a high-profile case,” Shafer said. He said he believed the screening was motivated only by the need for “consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, released the 205-page transcript Tuesday to “debunk conspiracy theories” about the improper targeting of conservative organizations by the Internal Revenue Service.
The congressional investigation, which began last month amid bipartisan pledges of cooperation, quickly deteriorated into a feud between Cummings and the chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
Two weeks ago, Issa cited excerpts from interviews that he said showed IRS employees in Cincinnati were being “directly ordered” by officials in Washington. He declined at the time to release the transcripts. Cummings said Issa’s decision not to release excerpts was not “responsible, fair or legitimate.”
Details of the debacle at the IRS became public last month with the release of an inspector general’s report that showed employees in Cincinnati used politically loaded terms, including “tea party” and “patriots,” to pull out applications for additional scrutiny.
Many of those groups later received letters with overly intrusive questions, including requests for lists of donors and descriptions of political conversations. Steven Miller, the acting IRS head, was forced to resign, and Lois Lerner, the head of the agency’s office of exempt organizations, was suspended.
So far, no evidence has emerged during the committee’s hearings or interviews that anyone at the IRS or the White House was directing a politically motivated campaign during an election year. At the same time, IRS employees described a process that, from the beginning, was being closely reviewed by agency lawyers in Washington.