This is really quite the novel approach to the IRS targeting scandal by congressional Democrats.
Seeking to change the narrative in order to get on top of scandal, Democrats have hit upon the idea to blame the IRS Inspector General, Russell George, for the scandal getting out of hand.
How do they figure that? It appears that many Democrats were unhappy with Mr. George’s initial report on the scandal, believing it to be “misleading.” Mmmkay, whatever. But now they’ve got a mind to file an ethics complaint against George because they think he is conspiring with Darrell Issa’s oversight committee to make the Democrats look bad and the IRS scandal worse than it really is.
Just “connect the dots,” says Rep. Connolly.
Democrats have for months said that George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, crafted a flawed, misleading report that helped fan the flames of the IRS targeting controversy.
Now Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) are sharply criticizing George for agreeing to brief GOP staff at a late January meeting on the Affordable Care Act without Democrats in attendance.
Aides say they now know of multiple meetings of George with the staff of Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) from which Democrats were excluded.
Two Democratic members of that panel – Reps. Matt Cartwright (Pa.) and Connolly – lodged a complaint on Wednesday about George’s original report on the IRS targeting last year, questioning his “independence, ethics, competence, and quality control” with an oversight board for inspectors general.
“If you want to connect the dots, a reasonable observer could be expected to conclude that he colluded with Issa’s staff to limit his report and the path of his investigation,” Connolly told The Hill concerning George.
“They have a tainted IG doing their bidding for them and making sure that the line of investigation is limited to what they want,” Connolly added.
Um, no — a reasonable observer would conclude that George only scratched the surface of the scandal, given what has come out since his initial report. What began as a rogue office of IRS partisans has morphed into an agency-wide effort to target conservative groups.
And how many liberal groups were “targeted” like Tea Party groups? There were 20 liberal groups who applied for tax-exempt status during the period of time in question and only six were singled out for special treatment.
Meanwhile, all 292 conservative groups came in for special scrutiny.
So, what are the “ethics complaints” against George?
They say the inspector general – a former GOP staffer at House Oversight and George W. Bush appointee – cut Democrats out of the conversation after Issa and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) requested that the watchdog look into the treatment of Tea Party groups.
The Democrats added that George might have valued getting his audit out quickly over getting his facts right, and that the IG had appeared to maximize reports of the IRS’s shabby treatment of conservative groups – while downplaying similar treatment of liberal organizations.
George’s office, Connolly and Cartwright say, “produced a fundamentally flawed performance audit of the activities of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division that harmed the public interest.”
Democrats had started criticizing George’s work just weeks after his report outlining the targeting was released in May 2013. In his report, George said that groups that had “Tea Party” or “9/12” in their name received extra scrutiny.
Those Democrats criticized George for not disclosing that his office sifted through thousands of emails and found no hint of political motivation, and that liberal groups were singled out as well.
Connolly and Cartwright reiterate those charges in their complaint, as well as noting that George’s office had limited their inquiry at Issa’s request.
“How can anyone believe an IG, of all people, can present himself as objective or neutral when that’s his behavior, and his whole history is as a partisan?” Connolly told The Hill. “That’s forgivable if you act in a fair and neutral manner. He hasn’t.”
George has said that his communications office misspoke about limiting the scope of his report, and has defended his findings – and suggested that Democrats’ questioning of his methods was “unprecedented.”
Republicans have insisted that the IRS was far more likely to single out conservative groups than their liberal counterparts. In recent days, a Tea Party activist also said she would file an ethics complaint against Cummings, saying the Maryland Democrat had sought information similar to the IRS.
About those emails….At least one communication has emerged that shows the targeting of conservatives carried over into rule making as well as vetting for non-profit status. And do Democrats really believe anyone at the IRS would be stupid enough to put in writing the idea that they were conducting a political vendetta against conservatives? Of course there are no emails showing partisan intent. You could go to jail if that were ever proven. Why do they think Lois Lerner took the 5th at the initial congressional hearing?
The Democrats might have a point about George meeting separately with Issa and the Republicans. But I’ll bet it’s not unprecedented for an IG to discuss his report with the majority alone.
The Obama administration has well-documented problems with assertive inspector generals, so this kind of pushback is to be expected from Hill Democrats. It’s an attempt to smear the IRS inspector general and only shows how desperate the Democrats have become. It’s a hail mary pass that is going to fall incomplete in the end zone.