When will Jeffrey Zients return from South Africa?

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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Amid new revelations about the IRS targeting scandal, the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said Tuesday that former OMB head Jeffrey Zients’ extended absence from the United States is due to a family vacation.

OMB’s statement came after The Daily Caller reported that former leader Jeffrey Zients met at the White House with key figures at the Internal Revenue Service just before news broke that the IRS was targeting conservative nonprofit groups for abusive audits and delays.

Zients has still not returned from an overseas trip that began after his departure from the Obama administration in April, two weeks before the IRS scandal broke. A White House source told The Daily Caller that Zients’ absence from the country has been noticeable and concerning.

“Mr. Zients’ wife’s family lives in South Africa. He is visiting them now, as he and his family do every summer,” an OMB spokesperson told Fox News in a statement Tuesday. The agency did not address the concerns raised by the White House source, nor did it provide either the date Zients began his overseas trip or the date he is expected to return.

OMB, which had declined to comment on Zients’ abrupt departure prior to The Daily Caller’s report, did not return a request for comment.

As The Daily Caller reported, Zients met with then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman and Shulman’s political aide Jonathan Davis and spokesman Frank Keith at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House complex on April 24, 2012.

Only Zients, who was in charge of OMB at the time, and the three men from the IRS attended the meeting, according to White House visitor logs. Their appointment ended more than eight hours after it began, according to the logs.

The next day, April 25, the IRS’s chief counsel’s office — led by William Wilkins, who met with Obama at the White House that same week — sent Washington-based IRS officials “additional comments on the draft guidance.” These guidelines covered approving or denying tea party tax-exempt applications, according to a report on the IRS scandal compiled by Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George.

“The meeting referenced in the Daily Caller article had nothing to do with IRS guidance on tax exempt entities. Mr. Zients never had a meeting on this topic during his entire tenure at OMB. The meeting referenced was focused solely on IRS budget and spending issues,” according to the OMB’s statement to Fox News.

It remains unclear why Shulman’s political and press aides were present at the meeting.

After a Senate vote confirming his successor — Sylvia Mathews Burwell — Zients left his post at OMB on April 24, 2013 with no public fanfare and no official White House statement on his departure, leading Washington insiders to speculate that he “disappeared.”

The Daily Caller looks forward to speaking with Zients upon his return.

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