Watchdog defends review of U.S. IRS conservative scrutiny
WASHINGTON, June 27 (Reuters) - The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, facing criticism of his findings that tax authorities targeted Tea Party-linked groups for extra scrutiny, said his office did not find evidence that the term "progressives" also was used to single out groups.
As the IRS "Tea Party" controversy turned inward on itself, with investigators themselves under scrutiny, J. Russell George said in a letter to Democrats his office found the IRS did not scrutinize both conservative and progressive groups equally.
The letter was released ahead of the latest in a series of congressional hearings on the controversy, which led last month to the ouster of the chief of the IRS by President Barack Obama and an FBI investigation.
As weeks have passed, the IRS fight has become politically charged with Republicans trying - without success so far - to pin the IRS practices to the White House, while Democrats have tried to put a lid on the affair and criticized George.
George signed a May 14 audit report that accused the IRS of targeting applications for tax-exempt status from non-profit conservative political groups, such as those aligned with the Tea Party movement, for extra scrutiny. The report set off a furor surrounding the IRS.
Democratic Representative Sander Levin on Monday said IRS staffers screened applications for tax-exempt status from progressive groups, too, not just conservative ones. Levin cited redacted documents he received from the IRS.
Levin said on Thursday that George was "not forthright" with members of Congress about the level of scrutiny applied by the IRS to liberal groups - such as those that might have "progressive" in their name - when they applied for tax-exempt status. He said George should be brought to testify before Congress.
GOP REQUESTED REPORT
Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that is leading the IRS investigation, said in a statement that Democrats were blowing out of proportion the use of "progressive" key words by equating liberal groups' experiences with that of Tea Party groups.
The report was requested by Issa in 2012 after Tea Party groups complained that their applications were being delayed, in some cases for years.
In the letter, addressed to Levin, George wrote, "We reviewed all cases that the IRS identified as potential political cases and did not limit our audit to allegations related to the Tea Party."
"While we have multiple sources of information corroborating the use of Tea Party and other related criteria ... including employee interviews, e-mails, and other documents, we found no indication in any of these other materials that 'Progressives' was a term used to refer cases for scrutiny for political campaign intervention," George said.
Danny Werfel, the acting IRS chief, told lawmakers on Thursday a wide range of tax-exempt applicants will be getting letters soon saying they are eligible for fast-track approval.
(Additional reporting by Kim Dixon; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bill Trott)