Politics

06.16.13

Elijah Cummings: House’s Tea Party–IRS Probe Far From ‘the Full Story’

The top Democrat on the House’s oversight committee tells Ben Jacobs that chairman Darrell Issa is ‘scrambling ... to find the facts to match the allegations.’

Did the IRS deliberately target nonprofits for political reasons? Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, thinks otherwise, and is calling on Darrell Issa, the committee chairman, to release the full testimony in question—saying the excerpts Issa had released were misleading and “hurt the credibility” of the probe.

Cummings told The Daily Beast that the testimony, yet to be publicly released, shows that the decision by the IRS to flag for extra scrutiny Tea Party groups seeking nonprofit status was in fact the brainchild of a Cincinnati-based screening manager, rather than the political move coming from Washington that Issa and other conservatives have called it. What’s more, said the Maryland Democrat, that manager is a self-described “conservative Republican” who volunteered that information to a committee investigator. “They didn’t ask him. He said he was.”

Cummings—who has yet to receive a response to the letter he sent Issa on Thursday, asking for the manager’s full testimony to be released by this coming Monday—ripped the committee chair for first offering inflammatory allegations and then “scrambling ... to find the facts to match the allegations.”

“It kills you,” says Cummings. “It not only hurts the credibility of the chairman, but hurts the credibility of the whole committee, both Republicans and Democrats.”  He claims that “a number of reporters” no longer trust Issa and now feel obliged to check with Cummings “for the full story.”

Asked to name one Issa-led investigation that had been appropriately managed and not politicized, Cummings paused. “That’s a tough question,” he said, and later added, “I don’t want to say there were none, but I can’t think of any.”

Cummings also expressed some sympathy for Lois Lerner, the suspended IRS official who took the Fifth Amendment before the committee. “I’m guessing as lawyer, coming before the committee, we wrote you,” he said, meaning Lerner. “We knew you were very concerned about this, you said that this wasn’t happening, and now we find out you knew it was happening, because you actually tried to stop it, and that’s the dilemma she finds herself in.”

The other IRS officials under investigation, he says, also acted with “good intentions.” In fact, in some ways, Cummings thought the screening manager was a model federal employee. The Cincinnati manager, he said “saw a unique situation and wanted to be consistent and ... treated all these cases the same ... [when] they saw folks who were asking for tax-exempt status, but at the same time wanted to do political activity.”

“We still have some things to look into,” says Cummings, but “when I have that kind of testimony, it’s kind of hard for me to see things straying so far from that.”