As Congressional investigators continue attempting to understand the extent to which the Internal Revenue Service targeted specific taxpayers (a years-long effort emboldened by the most recent controversy), continuing inconsistencies in testimony from agency representatives and new developments suggesting broader Federal involvement appear to be making Republicans increasingly keen on getting answers and Democrats increasingly unwilling to acknowledge that a controversy exists.
On Monday, CNN reported that the vice chairman of the Federal Elections Commission admitted to seeing dozens of email communications between FEC staff and IRS officials, raising new questions about collusion between the two agencies to muzzle political speech.
FEC Commissioner Don McGahn told the news agency that an FEC investigator had been in contact with IRS employee Lois Lerner — who admitted three months ago that her agency had targeted conservatives — to discuss the status of the conservative political advocacy group the American Future Fund.
Following communications between the two, American Future Fund received one of the IRS’s prying questionnaires about its nonprofit mission.
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CNN was not provided with a timeline of events concerning the targeting and communication. However, the news agency reports that McGahn considers the FEC/IRS communications precisely the kind of information IRS officials should, and have failed to, turn over to Congressional investigators.
Republican investigators were previously provided several emails between Lerner, the former head of the IRS division handling tax exempt organizations, and an unnamed FEC attorney discussing publicly available information about certain conservative groups. But McGahn suggests that the two agencies were sorting through private data on the groups in the emails he referenced. The sharing of private data between the two could indicate violations of Federal law.
And the question remains for Republicans: Why would the two Federal agencies need to communicate about public information?
“Things seemed weird to me,” McGahn told CNN of the communications. “The FEC has not had a good track record with calling balls and strikes. They’ve been criticized for not playing fair.”
Josh Drobnyk, a spokesman for Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is conducting an investigation into the IRS scandal separate from Republican efforts, said McGhan’s allegations and subsequent new Republican concerns are little more than political theatrics.
“House Republicans are doing everything they can to distract attention from their inability to focus on jobs and the economy,” he said. “Republicans are throwing mud against the wall with the hope that some will stick.”
Representatives Darrell Issa and Dave Camp, Republican chairmen of, respectively, the House committees on Oversight and Ways and Means, disagree with the Democrat assessment and have vowed to continue to search for answers.
“The American people demand and deserve accountability from their government, not to live in fear of being subject to an audit or other extra scrutiny for reasons unrelated to the content of their filing. So far, the IRS and this administration have provided no assurances that oversight and accountability is in place to prevent such abuses from happening again,” the two said in a Washington Post contribution Tuesday.
Despite the Presidential Administration’s insistence that the IRS scandal is “phony,” conservative efforts to find answers — as well as scrutiny on the White House — will likely be invigorated by McGahn’s revelations. After all, the emails he referenced, if Congressional investigators can get their hands on them, could be the definitive rebuttal to Democrat claims that the IRS’s conduct was anything but a full-on assault on American free speech.