The plot thickens, as the Democrat point man for obstructing investigations into one of the biggest scandals in American history – ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (D-MD) – is actually part of the scandal. It turns out his staff sent emails to the IRS asking for information about True the Vote, the vote fraud watchdog group headed up by Catherine Engelbrecht, who mysteriously found herself harassed and investigated by virtually every branch of the federal government, on the flimsiest of pretexts.
Cummings specifically denied making such requests, but now House Oversight has hard evidence to the contrary, and chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is asking some hard questions of Cummings. Katie Pavlich at Townhall reports:
Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa, along with five Subcommittee Chairmen are demanding Cummings provide an explanation for the staff inquiries to the IRS about True the Vote and for his denial that his staff ever contacted the IRS about the group.
“Although you have previously denied that your staff made inquiries to the IRS about conservative organization True the Vote that may have led to additional agency scrutiny, communication records between your staff and IRS officials – which you did not disclose to Majority Members or staff – indicates otherwise,” the letter to Cummings states. “As the Committee is scheduled to consider a resolution holding Ms. Lerner, a participant in responding to your communications that you failed to disclose, in contempt of Congress, you have an obligation to fully explain your staff’s undisclosed contacts with the IRS.”
The first contact between the IRS and Cummings’ staffers about True the Vote happened in August 2012. In January 2013, staff asked for more information from the IRS about the group. Former head of tax exempt groups at the IRS Lois Lerner went out of her way to try and get information to Cummings’ office.The information Cummings received was not shared with Majority Members on the Committee.
On January 28, three days after staffers requested more information, Lerner wrote an email to her deputy Holly Paz, who has since been put on administrative leave, asking, “Did we find anything?” Paz responded immediately by saying information had not been found yet, to which Lerner replied, “Thanks, check tomorrow please.”
On January 31, Paz sent True the Vote’s 990 forms to Cumming’s staff.
Here’s a bit of the correspondence between the IRS officials who handled the request Elijah Cummings insisted, until yesterday, he never made. You’ve got to love Lois Lerner’s part of the conversation: “Did we find anything?”
Cummings has been working hard to conceal these communications throughout the investigation of the scandal. He has issued angry, categorical denials that his staff ever coordinated with the IRS on its witch hunt against conservative groups, notably in response to Engelbrecht’s attorney Cleta Mitchell during a February 2014 hearing, in which Mitchell said she and her client wished to “get to the bottom of how these coincidences happened” and ” try to figure out whether any staff of this committee might have been involved in putting True the Vote on the radar screen of some of these Federal Agencies.”
Cummings’ response: “What she just said is absolutely incorrect and not true.” As Pavlich notes, Engelbrecht was unconvinced by these denials, and filed an ethics complaint against Cummings. The emails disclosed by Chairman Issa vindicate Engelbrecht and Mitchell’s suspicions.
Issa’s patience has long been stretched by Cummings’ shameful antics during these oversight hearings, which we can now view an effort to prevent scrutiny from turning his way. It has long been suspected that attacks on conservative groups by top Democrats guided the IRS to target them for a process of “enhanced review” that would ultimately delay approval of their tax exemption requests until after the 2012 election, as well as intimidating potential donors to the targeted groups. The almost perfect symmetry between Cummings’ public attack on True the Vote, his surreptitious requests for tax information from the IRS, and the way numerous federal agencies subsequently went after Engelbrecht seems significant.
“Although you have previously denied that your staff made inquiries to the IRS about conservative organization True the Vote that may have led to additional agency scrutiny, records of communication between your staff and IRS officials – which you did not disclose to Majority Members or staff – indicate otherwise,” Issa wrote to Cummings on Wednesday. ”As the Committee is scheduled to consider a resolution holding Ms. Lerner, a participant in responding to your communications that you failed to disclose, in contempt of Congress, you have an obligation to fully explain your staff’s undisclosed contacts with the IRS.”
The IRS officials who handled Cummings’ long-concealed request didn’t inform the Oversight Committee about it, either. How cozy!
Issa added that the “timeline and pattern of inquiries raises concerns that the IRS improperly shared protected taxpayer information with your staff.” One of the big unanswered questions is whether any confidential tax information, protected by federal law, was disclosed to Cummings and his staff by the IRS officials who responded to their request. Such information was unquestionably pulled by the IRS people and passed between them by email; we need to know if any of it was forwarded to Cummings staffers. If so, that’s a federal crime, punishable by fines and jail time. The possibility of such illegal disclosure was cited as one of the reasons the House Ways and Means Committee voted yesterday to recommend a Justice Department investigation of former Tax Exempt Organizations director Lois Lerner.
One of the officials involved in handling Cummings’ inquiry, Holly Paz, is already on administrative leave for her role in the politicized targeting of conservative groups. Another is, well, Lois Lerner. The idea of allowing Cummings to participate in the vote on holding Lerner in contempt of Congress is ludicrous.
Issa’s letter to Cummings says these new revelations “raise serious questions about your actions and motivations for trying to bring this investigation to a premature end.” A little of the bad blood between the two representative seeps out when Issa growls that Cummings’ “frequent complaints about the Committee Majority contacting individuals on official matters without the involvement of Minority staff makes the reasons for your staff’s secretive correspondence with the IRS even more more mysterious.”
The letter concludes with Issa declaring that that American people “deserve to know why the Ranking Member and Minority staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform surreptitiously contacted the IRS about an individual organization without informing the Majority Staff, and even failed to disclose the contact after it became an issue during a subcommittee hearing.” There’s nothing funny about any of this, but I can’t help thinking it plays like a scene from “Dr. Strangelove.” Gentlemen, this is the Oversight Committee! We can’t have surreptitious behavior in here!
Cummings’ response, judging from the summary provided by the Washington Examiner this morning, is to demand we forget about all the times he lied about making these inquiries, and take his word that nothing untoward occurred:
In his response, Cummings said the GOP has falsely accused him of wrongly contacting the IRS about True the Vote. Cummings said in the letter that he has publicly stated his interest in finding more about True the Vote, which supports voter ID laws that Cummings opposes.
Cummings said in his letter that his inquiries were appropriate and did not violate any rules. His requests, Cummings added, were for publicly available information.
One request, Cummings said, was to gather information about True the Vote’s $5,000 donation to the Republican State Leadership Committee, a move that suggested partisan and political motives.
Cummings said the letter from Issa and others Republicans is “a desperate attempt to shift the focus on tomorrow’s contempt vote away from the serious Constitutional deficiencies in these proceedings.”
That’s the thing about being a documented liar, Rep. Cummings: nobody’s going to believe you now. There must be a formal investigation involving more hard evidence before we conclude the inquiries you have long concealed were entirely “appropriate.” And we need to know why you, and the IRS officials your staff contacted, concealed them.
Which pretty much sums up what the IRS scandal is all about, because Democrat efforts to obstruct the investigation and spin the scandal away, with no consequences worse than administrative leave or early retirement for anyone involved, leave the American people unable to trust the politicized Internal Revenue Service. I think we’re done with laughable Democrat attempts to claim there isn’t a “smidgen of corruption” here. What’s next?
Update: Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote issued a statement after the Cummings revelations:
Elijah Cummings has blocked the IRS abuse investigation all along. We now see clearly that two branches of government have colluded to target and silence private citizens.
America has come to a tipping point. No more lies. No more cover-ups. No more collusion. Enough is enough. Finally, we have a chance for the rule of law to be re-established, thanks to the bold efforts of Chairman Issa and Rep. Jordan.
We filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Cummings in February. Today we’re amending that filing to include this latest revelation. As I have said in my testimony before Congress; I will not retreat, I will not surrender, I will not be intimidated. I will not ask Rep. Cummings, Lois Lerner, Barack Obama, or anyone else, for permission to exercise my constitutional rights.