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Did the IRS give taxpayer information to the White House?

Watchdog group Cause of Action has been trying to use a Freedom of Information Act request to get some information about a Treasury Department probe into the IRS improperly giving taxpayer information to the White House, as part of the whole “weaponize the IRS against conservatives” strategy.  As is customary, the Obama Administration fought this FOIA request tooth and nail, obliging a federal judge to step in on September 30 and order release of documents pertaining to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s investigation into the release of taxpayer information.

Cause of Action explained the significance of this ruling in a press release: “Under section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, tax returns and taxpayer return information are to be kept confidential. An unauthorized disclosure under 6103, even if to the President, is not only a prosecutable offense, but warrants a prompt investigation by TIGTA. Cause of Action’s request sought information as to what confidential taxpayer information was being reviewed by the White House. In an unprecedented decision, the court determined that 6103 does not authorize the government to shield such information under an exemption to FOIA and that TIGTA’s investigations are not themselves confidential. This victory for transparency forces the agency to process documents in response to Cause of Action’s FOIA request that could show the White House accessed tax return information illegally.”

The deadline for releasing these documents was December 1.  The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration just informed the court they’re not going to make it… because there are over 2,500 potentially responsive documents, and they haven’t finished going through them all yet.  They asked for a two-week extension to finish processing the last 500 documents.  That’s an awful lot of paperwork smoke, although we won’t know for sure if there’s a fire until the full set of documents has been released and reviewed.  It’s possible the TIGTA investigation found no conclusive evidence of the improper release of taxpayer information, but that’s a lot of paper to say “nope, nobody did anything suspicious,” and it would seem odd for the FOIA request to have been resisted so vigorously if we’re talking about a 2,500-page clean bill of health.

“This disclosure, coming only after Cause of Action sued TIGTA over its refusal to acknowledge whether such investigations took place, and after the Court ordered TIGTA to reveal whether or not documents existed, signals that the White House may have made significant efforts to obtain taxpayers’ personal information,” said a new statement from the watchdog group.  “This disclosure, following on the heels of TIGTA’s admission that it recovered 30,000 ‘lost’ Lois Lerner emails, renews Cause of Action’s concerns about the decaying professionalism of, and apparent slip into partisanship by, IRS’s senior leadership.”  

In case you missed it, that reference to the Lerner emails concerns TIGTA suddenly announcing that it found a big pile of the former Tax Exempt Organizations director’s correspondence, after months of IRS officials loudly stating that the whole shebang was lost in an amazing series of freak hard-drive crashes, and no backups were made, in defiance of both federal laws and agency standards.  The Raiders of the Lost Email found some backups after all… and there are suspicions some of the recovered messages pertain to the improper release of taxpayer information to the White House.

The key to the Administration’s defensive strategy over the IRS scandal has been interminable delay, fighting transparency every step of the way, spinning whatever crazy story is necessary to survive each news cycle.  This greatly cushions the blow when revelations are finally made – we’re learning things now that would have been atomic-bomb material at the outbreak of the scandal, which only broke out because Lerner and her associates decided to get out in front of a damaging Inspector General report.  The neat thing about this delay strategy is that Obama partisans, including media figures eager to keep this scandal buried, can claim disclosures were made, while conveniently failing to mention the interminable delays that kept the story from reaching critical mass, instantly transforming each new discovery into “old news.”

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