Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is accusing members of Rep. Elijah Cummings’ staff of colluding with the IRS to investigate the conservative group True the Vote.
“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,” reads a letter sent to Cummings by Issa and five subcommittee chairmen.
Issa and Cummings have battled over allegations that the IRS has specifically targeted conservative groups over applications for tax-exempt status.
In Oct. 2012 Cummings, the Oversight Committee’s ranking minority member, opened an investigation into True the Vote. Cummings was concerned that the vote-monitoring group was engaging in voter suppression.
Though Cummings has denied that his staff has contacted the IRS concerning True the Vote, Wednesday’s letter provides at least some evidence of a connection between staffers and the agency.
On Jan. 25, 2013 IRS staffer Catherine Barre responded to an email request from Oversight Committee minority staff members. The staffers, Barre wrote to colleagues, were seeking “any publicly available information” about True the Vote.
Barre forwarded the request to others within the agency, including staffer Holly Paz and Lois Lerner, the embattled ex-IRS official who has refused to testify to Congress about IRS targeting.
Paz, who is currently on administrative leave for her role in the alleged targeting, asked other IRS employees to look into True the Vote.
Lerner took interest in the request, emailing Paz three days later. “Did we find anything?” she asked.
When Paz said she had not, Lerner instructed “check tomorrow please”.
On Jan. 31, Paz obtained True the Vote’s IRS 990 forms and authorized their release to Oversight Committee minority staff.
Wednesday’s letter also raised suspicion over similarities between requests sent to True the Vote by both Cummings and the IRS.
Issa and his co-signers pointed out that within a span of five days in Oct. 2012, both Cummings and the IRS requested information about True the Vote’s volunteers and training methods.
“This timeline and pattern of inquiries raises concerns that the IRS improperly shared protected protected taxpayer information with your staff,” reads the letter.
Cummings had previously denied that his staff ever colluded with the IRS, the letter notes, citing an exchange with Cleta Mitchell, an attorney for True the Vote president Catherine Engelbrecht.
“We want to get to the bottom of how these coincidences happened, and we’re going to try to figure out whether any – if there was any staff of this committee that might have been involved in putting True the Vote on the radar screen of some of these Federal agencies,” said Mitchell in testimony before the Oversight Committee on Feb. 6
“What she just said is absolutely incorrect and not true,” said Cummings.
On Thursday, the Oversight Committee will vote over whether to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about IRS targeting of conservative groups.