House Republicans Work To Keep IRS Scandal In The Spotlight

Congressional Republicans are accusing the IRS of dodging their questions and requests for documents in the inquiry into the flagging of Tea Party groups seeking tax exempt status. One House committee warns the agency it could use its investigative powers to enforce compliance. And a second committee says it now has proof that conservative groups were treated worse than progressive groups.

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As House Republicans prepare to head home for the August recess, they're trying to keep the IRS scandal in the spotlight. This week, the House is considering a number of bills inspired by the controversy, and Republicans have armed themselves with a new analysis. They say it proves that conservative groups were vetted more stringently by the IRS. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: One of the ongoing problems with the IRS scandal is a lack of complete information. Republicans released partial transcripts that push one narrative, then Democrats released their own partial transcripts contradicting the story line. Next, Democrats released documents showing progressive groups were on IRS watch lists, too, meaning conservatives weren't the only ones being flagged for possible political activity.

Now, the House Ways and Means Committee says it can show that conservative groups took the brunt. Michigan Republican Dave Camp is chairman of the committee.

REPRESENTATIVE DAVID CAMP: We've actually gone in and looked at the specific cases, and what we've found is that conservative groups got more questions, more denials and more delays than progressive groups did.

KEITH: His staff dug into the applications of both conservative groups and progressive groups given extra scrutiny by the IRS. They only looked at groups with names that included terms the IRS used for flagging. Terms included Tea Party, patriot, 9/12 and progressive. There were just seven progressive groups and 104 conservative ones. Camp says the analysis proves conservatives were targeted.

CAMP: Three times as many questions went to conservative groups, so they got more questions. Only half the groups got approved, and we still have conservative groups that haven't been approved.

KEITH: The analysis is the closest so far to an objective numerical accounting of how the groups were treated by the IRS. Still, Michigan Democrat Sander Levin, the ranking member on the committee, says it is flawed because it leaves out significant details.

REPRESENTATIVE SANDER LEVIN: You'd have to look at the applications in order to make any judgments.

KEITH: Without knowing how completely the groups filled out their applications for tax-exempt status, it's hard to know why they got so many questions from the IRS seeking additional information. And Levin says no one yet knows how many conservative and progressive groups even applied. It's like seeing the quotient without knowing the numerator or the denominator. Levin isn't convinced it all adds up to targeting.

LEVIN: The Republicans have rushed to judgment from day one.

KEITH: It's nearly impossible to get at the truth without seeing all the documents involved, says Darrell Issa. The California Republican is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and this week he sent a stern letter to the IRS demanding it turn over more evidence.

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: They're stonewalling. They've delivered less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the documents they identified as responsive, and they have deliberately over-redacted, which is a nice way for saying removing all of the functional and important information necessary for discovery.

KEITH: Asked why he thought this was happening, Issa said this:

ISSA: They're hiding something.

KEITH: And he says he's not afraid to use his subpoena power to get at it. In a statement, a spokeswoman for the IRS says the agency is aggressively responding to numerous requests from Congress and strongly disagrees with any suggestion that the agency isn't cooperating.

She also takes issue with Issa's math, saying the number of relevant documents is far smaller than what he's suggesting. Issa's Democratic counterpart on the committee, Elijah Cummings from Maryland, says he's willing to give the agency the benefit of the doubt.

REPRESENTATIVE ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Sometimes it takes time to get through all of that.

KEITH: The IRS has 70 attorneys working on this full time, and ultimately it expects to turn over some 450,000 documents. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.

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