Administration stonewalling on releasing IRS docs

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has turned down an FOIA request from The Hill to release more than 500 pages of documents relating to the Tea Party targeting scandal at the IRS.

This is just the latest indication that the Obama administration is trying to "run out the clock" on the investigation so that current officials will be out of government by the time any useful information is released.

What makes these 500 pages of documents so important is that they were used as a basis for the TIGTA report of May, 2013 in which the IRS was accused of using "inappropriate criteria" to target conservative groups.

TIGTA opted not to release any of the 512 documents covered by the request, citing various exemptions in the law. The Hill recently appealed the FOIA decision, but TIGTA denied the appeal. TIGTA also declined to comment for this article.

In its written response to The Hill, TIGTA cited FOIA exemptions ranging from interagency communication to personal privacy. It also claimed it cannot release relevant documents “when interference with the law enforcement proceedings can be reasonably expected.”

Yet, congressional Republicans say there is no evidence of any prosecution in the works, and media outlets have indicated that the Department of Justice and the FBI have already determined that no charges will be filed. 

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) notes that eight months after Lerner was held in contempt of Congress for not testifying at two hearings, the matter has not yet been referred to a grand jury. The contempt citation is in the hands of Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who was appointed by President Obama.

Asked for comment on the administration’s FOIA response to The Hill, Jordan said, “It’s par for the course. We’ve had a difficult time getting information from the IRS and the Department of Justice.” Jordan, a senior member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has held numerous hearings on the IRS scandal.

Last week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said the IRS recently delivered 86,000 pages of new documents to the panel. Hatch added, “These documents ... were given to us without notice or explanation roughly twenty months after we made our initial document request [on the targeting].”

Republicans in both the House and Senate are stepping up their investigations of the IRS. They have criticized the IRS and TIGTA for not informing Congress about the Tea Party targeting before the 2012 presidential election. GOP lawmakers say the administration has largely stonewalled them, while Democrats have called the probes “a witch hunt.”

The bureaucrat at the center of the scandal, Lois Lerner, was held in contempt of Congress 8 months ago. To date, no grand jury has convened to weigh charges against her. The Justice Department attorney in charge of the investigation was appointed by Obama.

At issue is who knew what, when? There is no doubt the administration hid the targeting scandal from Congress and the people until after the 2012 election. Some of those documents being withheld may shed light on the decision making process that led to slow walking the investigation through TIGTA  so that it was a full 7 months after the election before the public got an inkling of what the IRS was up to. This, despite the IRS investigation into Lois Lerner's activities beginning in June of 2012.

TIGTA has come under fire before for its FOIA practices:

In the fall of last year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia admonished the agency for its use of FOIA exemptions. Cause of Action, a nonprofit group that has sued TIGTA, announced in December that the agency declined to fork over more than 2,000 documents related to a FOIA request.

Judicial Watch, another group that has sued the Obama administration on FOIA, said in December that the DOJ withheld 832 documents pertaining to meetings between the IRS and the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section and Election Crimes Division.

Some of the documents that The Hill requested were released to Judicial Watch last year after a judge ruled in favor of the conservative group’s lawsuit.

Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that the DOJ will soon release a report on the IRS targeting that will include “some final recommendations.”

Lerner, who pleaded the Fifth Amendment before Congress, has given a lengthy interview to DOJ officials.

Now begins a lengthy court battle for the documents as TIGTA drags its feet and takes its time in responding. Meanwhile, the FBI and Justice have given no indication that anyone is even under criminal  investigation. As depressing as it sounds, it looks as if at this point, they are all going to get away with it.

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