WASHINGTON D.C. – TheÂ Justice DepartmentÂ selected an avowed political supporter of President Obama to lead the criminal probe into theÂ IRSÂ targeting of tea party groups, according to top Republicans who said Wednesday that the move has ruined the entire investigation.
House Oversight and Government Reform CommitteeÂ ChairmanÂ Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, and regulatory affairs subcommittee ChairmanÂ Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, said they have discovered that the head of the investigation isÂ Barbara Kay Bosserman, a trial lawyer in theÂ Justice DepartmentÂ who donated more than $6,000 to Mr. Obamaâ€™s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, as well as several hundred dollars to the nationalÂ Democratic Party.
â€œTheÂ departmentÂ has created a startling conflict of interest,â€Â Mr. IssaÂ andÂ Mr. JordanÂ said in a letter sent Wednesday and reviewed by The Washington Times. â€œIt is unbelievable that theÂ departmentÂ would choose such an individual to examine the federal governmentâ€™s systematic targeting and harassment of organizations opposed to the presidentâ€™s policies.â€
TheÂ Internal Revenue Serviceâ€™s internal auditor revealed in May that the agency had been inappropriately targeting and blocking applications for tax-exempt status from tea party and conservative-leaning groups. In the immediate aftermath, Mr. Obama promised that theÂ FBIÂ and theÂ Justice DepartmentÂ would investigate whether theÂ IRSÂ broke any laws.
Ms. BossermanÂ didnâ€™t respond to an email seeking comment.
But theÂ Justice DepartmentÂ said it isnâ€™t allowed to consider a career lawyerâ€™s political leanings when doling out assignments and that it would violate an employeeâ€™s constitutional rights if he were penalized on the job for making legal political contributions.
â€œIt is contrary to department policy and a prohibited personnel practice under federal law to consider the political affiliation of career employees or other non-merit factors in making personnel decisions,â€ said spokeswomanÂ Dena Iverson.
According to campaign finance records,Â Ms. BossermanÂ donated $400 to theÂ Democratic National CommitteeÂ in 2004 and $250 in 2008. She gave $3,600 toÂ Mr. Obamaâ€™s campaign in 2008, $2,000 to his campaign in 2012, and $500 to the separateÂ Obama Victory FundÂ in 2012.
The tea party scandal has faded from the headlines but the fallout continues. TheÂ IRSÂ is trying to come to terms with some of the conservative groups it delayed in approving tax-exempt status.
Meanwhile, the criminal investigation continues, according to anÂ FBIÂ letter sent toÂ Mr. IssaÂ late last month. TheÂ FBIÂ says itâ€™s because of that investigation that the agency will not release any of its documents toÂ Mr. Issa.
â€œWe would request that theÂ committeeÂ permit the investigators to complete their investigation and consult with federal prosecutors,â€Â Stephen D. Kelly, assistant director of theÂ FBIâ€™s office of congressional affairs, said in a Dec. 31 letter toÂ Mr. Issa. â€œAs a result, we cannot provide the documents requested â€¦ while the criminal investigation is active.â€
TheÂ FBIÂ didnâ€™t say when it would complete the investigation.
Mr. IssaÂ andÂ Mr. JordanÂ warned Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that theÂ FBIâ€™s refusal to cooperate could rise â€œto the level of criminal obstructionâ€ of Congressâ€™ oversight responsibilities. TheÂ Justice DepartmentÂ promised to at least brief congressional investigators on the status of theÂ FBIÂ probe, but then backed out.
Mr. Kellyâ€™s letter didnâ€™t address the reason, but it did reply to another request fromÂ Mr. IssaÂ seeking information about theÂ FBIâ€™s contacts withÂ King Street Patriots, one of the tea party groups that applied for tax-exempt status but was stonewalled.
Catherine Engelbrecht, a chief organizer ofÂ King Street Patriots, said she felt the government was targeting her after theÂ FBIÂ made repeated inquiries about someone who attended aÂ King Street PatriotsÂ meeting.
In its letter toÂ Mr. Issa, theÂ FBIÂ said it contacted theÂ King Street PatriotsÂ after receiving a complaint in 2010 that a member of the group had said he wanted to start a revolution and had visited a firing range.
Mr. KellyÂ saidÂ FBIÂ agents checked with the group, which said the man attended a training session but was asked to leave.Â Mr. KellyÂ said the group provided an address the man had given, but that address turned out to be false. When theÂ FBIÂ ultimately tracked down the man, he â€œindicated that his remarks were made in jest.â€
But that doesnâ€™t jibe withÂ Ms. Engelbrechtâ€™s recollection, nor with the paper record that was released. In a heavily redacted copy of one of theÂ FBIâ€™s contact reports, whichÂ Ms. EngelbrechtÂ obtained, theÂ FBIÂ makes no mention of the individualÂ Mr. KellyÂ said the agency was investigating. Instead, the report lists the contact as part of â€œcommunity outreach.â€
Ms. EngelbrechtÂ said theÂ FBIÂ made a half-dozen inquiries over the course of a year. She said she also fielded inquiries at her business from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; faced an audit by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of Engelbrecht Manufacturing; and underwent anÂ IRSÂ audit of her personal tax returns.