The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent responsible for giving confidential conservative and Tea Party tax documents to the left-leaning journalism group ProPublica was never put on leave. Instead, she merely received “formal admonishment” for actions that Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George said could be illegal, according to interview transcripts released by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD).
On Tuesday, Cummings made the controversial decision to release two sets of full transcripts from the House Oversight Committee’s investigator interviews with IRS agents. Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa blasted Cummings’ decision as irresponsible. He said Cummings’ release would now “serve as a roadmap for IRS officials to navigate investigative interviews with Congress.”
The transcripts reveal that former top Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official for tax-exempt groups Holly Paz told congressional investigators that the Cincinnati IRS agent who provided ProPublica with the private documents was never put on leave.
“I believe she was issued a formal admonishment,” said Paz.
However, during Senate hearings, Inspector General George said those actions may have been violations of the law.
“You mentioned earlier that disclosure of confidential information would be a violation of the law,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD).
“Yes, it could be a violation of the law,” George said.
“The reporting about the giving of this information to ProPublica–release of confidential information–could very well be a violation of the law?” asked Thune.
“It could have been,” said George.
The IRS’s leaking of conservative groups’ confidential tax records to ProPublica came to light last month when ProPublica admitted it had received documents on conservative groups that “were not supposed to be made public” and that “no unapproved applications from liberal groups were sent to ProPublica.”
As ProPublica explained:
The same IRS office that deliberately targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status in the run-up to the 2012 election released nine pending confidential applications of conservative groups to ProPublica late last year… In response to a request for the applications for 67 different nonprofits last November, the Cincinnati office of the IRS sent ProPublica applications or documentation for 31 groups. Nine of those applications had not yet been approved–meaning they were not supposed to be made public. (We made six of those public, after redacting their financial information, deeming that they were newsworthy.)
The IRS’s own manual makes it clear that such disclosures are illegal and may be subject to criminal penalties:
18.104.22.168.1 (03-07-2008) Criminal Penalties Under IRC § 7213
- IRC § 7213 makes the willful unauthorized disclosure of a return or return information a felony punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, or imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution.
Upon conviction, officers or employees of the United States will also be dismissed from office or discharged from employment.
Note: IRC § 7213 also covers willful disclosures of software source code data protected by IRC § 7612.
With top Democrat lawmakers scurrying to shut down the IRS investigation, it remains to be seen whether the IRS agent responsible for the potentially illegal leaking of conservative tax documents will receive anything more than the “formal admonishment.”
“The witch hunt needs to end,” says Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD).
The transcripts Cummings released redacted the names of the IRS agents investigators interviewed, as well as the names of the attorneys involved.