By Todd Beamon
WASHINGTON D.C. – Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee accused the panel’s senior Democrat on Wednesday of spurring the IRS investigation of True the Vote after the group filed its application for tax-exempt status in 2010.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the panel’s chairman, released emails showing that staff working for the ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, had communicated multiple times with the Houston-based group between August 2012 and last year.
Issa also charged that information obtained by Cummings’ staff was shared with the IRS and its embattled former supervisor, Lois Lerner, and that the Democrat did not disclose any of those dealings with committee Republicans.
“Although you have previously denied that your staff made inquiries to the IRS about conservative organization True the Vote that may have led to additional agency scrutiny, communication records between your staff and IRS officials — which you did not disclose to majority members or staff — indicates otherwise,” Issa said in a letter sent to Cummings.
The letter, also signed by the five Republicans who chair oversight subcommittees, referenced the committee’s planned vote on Thursday to hold Lerner in contempt for her twice refusing to testify before the panel in its investigation.
“You have an obligation to fully explain your staff’s undisclosed contacts with the IRS,” the letter says.
Cummings, who has been in the House since 1996, has contended that he was conducting appropriate oversight of True the Vote. A staffer told Newsmax on Wednesday that a statement from the congressman was forthcoming.
Catherine Engelbrecht, True the Vote’s president, said Wednesday that the organization filed an ethics complaint against Cummings in February. She criticized the Democrat for his information requests at a committee hearing that month.
“Today’s committee action reveals what we knew all along: partisan politics and the weaponization of government against opponents of this administration is real and continues,” Englebrecht said. “Elijah Cummings has blocked the IRS abuse investigation all along. We now see clearly that two branches of government have colluded to target and silence private citizens.”
She said the organization was amending its complaint against Cummings to include the latest information.
“America has come to a tipping point,” Engelbrecht said. “No more lies. No more cover-ups. No more collusion. Enough is enough.”
The new emails came as the House Ways and Means Committee voted to recommend that Lerner, who retired from the IRS last year, be investigated for criminal violations by the Justice Department.
That panel found in its investigation that Lerner engaged in an “aggressive and improper pursuit” of Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a nonprofit political group co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove.
Ways and Means is calling for a criminal inquiry because it found that Lerner treated conservative groups unfairly.
A vote-monitoring organization founded in 2009, True the Vote was among dozens of tea party, conservative, and religious groups singled out for special scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service in their applications for tax-exempt status starting in 2010 and through the presidential election.
The organization was granted its tax-exempt status last September after three years and a lawsuit against the agency. The lawsuit is pending. The status that True the Vote received, 501(c)(4), allows the organization to keep its donors private.
According to the emails released on Wednesday, members of Cummings’ staff first contacted the IRS about True the Vote in August 2012.
The next January, staffers sought more information from the agency about the group. The emails showed that Lerner made special efforts to obtain information from Cummings’ office.
For instance, a Jan. 28 email — sent three days after staffers requested more True the Vote information — Lerner wrote to her deputy, Holly Paz, asked, “Did we find anything?”
Paz, who is now on administrative leave in light of the scandal, responded immediately, saying that no information had yet been found.
Lerner then replied, according to the emails, “Thanks, check tomorrow please.”
In Feburary, Engelbrecht charged in an Oversight Committee hearing that Cummings “sent letters to True the Vote, demanding much of the same information the IRS had requested” after the group filed its application.
She added that Cummings then “would appear on cable news and publicly defame me and my organization.”
Engelbrecht added that her organization and her manufacturing company received IRS audits and six separate inquiries from the FBI regarding “domestic terrorism” after the group filed its application.
In addition, her business was inspected and fined by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Politico reports.
“For decades I went unnoticed, but now find myself on the receiving end of interagency coordination into and against all facets of my life,” she said at the hearing.
In response, Cummings said: “There is no one that I know of that cares more about the rights of our citizens than I do. I don’t care if you’re tea party or Democrat or Republican — I want to make sure no one is blocked from voting.”
Lerner, who headed the agency that evaluated applications for tax-exempt status, ignited the controversy last May when she disclosed the scandal in response to a question asked at a conference in Chicago.
Her response came just before the Treasury Department’s inspector general released a report disclosing the IRS targeting.
President Barack Obama fired Steven Miller, head of the IRS, who apologized in testimony to Ways and Means Committee, calling it “horrible customer service,” and at least three other IRS workers have been placed on put on administrative leave.
In testimony before the oversight committee, Lerner has twice invoked her Fifth Amendment, though she has denied wrongdoing.
Lerner’s attorney, William Taylor, has charged Republicans with trying to “vilify Ms. Lerner for political gain.”
He also disclosed last month that Lerner has discussed the IRS targeting with the Justice Department. Taylor did not disclose the date of the private session but indicated that his client was not under oath.