Issa’s Missing Testimony

Why won’t Issa release the full transcript of his IRS investigation? Michael Tomasky has a theory.

Charles Dharapak/AP

All right, let’s get back to the IRS. While everyone was focused on the Edward Snowden revelations, we had an interesting development in the IRS matter that throws another several gallons of ice-cold water on Darrell Issa’s alleged case against the Obama administration—and that raises some interesting questions about how Issa and his staff are using the information they have obtained. Republicans have been hoping to ride this horse into 2014 and beyond, but it may be ready for the glue factory already.

Late last week, a few news stories appeared quoting some employees of the IRS Cincinnati office saying quasi-ominous things about being directed from Washington to do this or that. This CBS News article provides a good example. One beleaguered IRS employee, Elizabeth Hofacre, said she was instructed to clear all letters she sent to tea party groups through an IRS lawyer in Washington—which to said groups naturally brings to mind the image of this lawyer hand-delivering the letters to Obama himself as the two of them laugh the laughter of slippery cosmopolitans who’ve hoodwinked the booboisie yet again.

These remarks by Hofacre and others were made in secret session to Issa’s oversight committee, which has transcripts of these conversations. CBS, according to the article, reviewed the transcripts from “some” of the interviews. It seems obvious that reporters were shown mainly the bits that sounded scintillating and kept the story alive.

But lo and behold there were other bits, and a clearly miffed Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on Issa’s committee, released some of those the other day. And what did that include? The testimony of a self-described “conservative Republican” in the Cincinnati office who told the committee he had “no reason to believe” that there was any White House involvement in the whole business. There was a memo Cummings made public Monday in which the employee said the above, as well as attesting that he did not believe “that the screening of [Tea Party] cases had anything to do other than consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development.” His clotted rhetoric speaks to his 21 years as a civil servant, but his meaning and intention are clear enough. To this conservative Republican, there was no political agenda at work in Cincinnati.

The same can hardly be said, though, of Issa’s committee. He’s been asked now for weeks by journalists on Capitol Hill to release all the transcripts of those closed-door sessions. He’s promised that he will for nigh on a month now, but he never has. The Cummings intervention thus leads us to the obvious conclusion, which is that Issa knows of exculpatory information that came to light in his closed-door sessions and is sitting on it.

There is the testimony, for example, of Holly Paz, an IRS official in Washington who spoke privately to the committee on May 21. Paz told Issa’s committee that “no one outside the IRS participated in these activities or was aware of them when they occurred,” as Cummings put it in a public hearing the following day.

And yet, note how Issa characterized Paz’s private testimony: “The committee has learned from Ms. Paz that she in fact participated in an IRS internal investigation that concluded in May of 2012, May 3 of 2012, and found essentially the same thing that Mr. George found more than a year later. Think about it. For more than a year, the IRS knew that it had inappropriately targeted groups of Americans based on their political beliefs, and without mentioning it, and in fact without honestly answering questions that were the result of this internal investigation.” That’s a lot of smoke, but no fire, at least in terms of any potential White House involvement. And he conveniently left out the part about how Paz said no one outside the IRS was involved. If her full testimony were released, we could decide for ourselves.

So here is the situation. We have a chairman on a fishing expedition who has nothing on Obama or any White House person. He also says things that aren’t true and never walks them back. He leaves out some things that are true but aren’t helpful to his “cause.” But he knows that he needs to milk this nonsense through 2014 or that frothing GOP base is going to bring some of that froth his way.

I’ve said before that there’s a scandal here, but it’s an entirely bureaucratic one. Now I’m less and less sure even of that. A new study, written up by Paul Blumenthal in The Huffington Post, finds that during the period in question, the IRS approved the tax-exempt applications of 122 conservative groups and just 48 liberal (or nonconservative) ones. So it may not even in the end be an IRS scandal—just a procedural cock-up that they fixed.

But one thing it almost certainly is not is a political scandal. Well, check that. It is. But the scandal reposes on the majority side of the House oversight committee, and in the House GOP leadership, which has no agenda and nothing to offer America except these delusional diversions. That’s the scandal.