Republican lawmakers on Friday took the acting chief of the IRS to task for obstructing congressional investigations into the targeting of tea party groups -- something the IRS director adamantly denied.
Holding up copies of completely blacked-out papers, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., accused acting IRS chief Daniel Werfel of redacting more information than necessary in the documents turned over to the committee. The congressman said he plans to bypass IRS lawyers and will subpoena documents directly from the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS.
"You are slow-rolling us," Issa told Werfel. "There are important facts to get out, and you are obstructing."
Werfel, who appeared for the committee on Friday to talk about an unrelated matter -- identify theft-related tax fraud -- responded to Issa and other Republicans on the committee, "The notion that we're impeding or obstructing is completely false. In fact, the opposite is true."
He pointed out the IRS has turned over 70,000 pages of documents to Congress, responded to 41 different letters and has had IRS employees appear in 15 different hearings since the controversy over unfair political targeting at the IRS started. More than 100 employees in the agency are dedicated to responding to Congress' inquiries, he said, including 70 lawyers.
"It's easy to pick up a document with a bunch of black on it and say you've redacted everything," he said. "The facts are those documents are coming to the Congress, we're working furiously to get them here... Just because they're blacked out is not an obstruction."
Werfel pointed out that Issa's committee does not have legal authority to receive confidential taxpayer information. In Congress, that authority is reserved for the chairmen of the two tax-writing committees, House Ways and Means and Senate Finance, and their designated staff.
Werfel said the two tax-writing committees are receiving full documents. However, both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have also complained that the IRS is producing documents too slowly.
On Friday, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, released an interim report on the Senate Finance Committee's investigation. The report reaches no conclusions, but the two senators said in a joint statement, "The IRS needs to be more cooperative in providing us with the documents needed to fully carry out this investigation."
Baucus chairs the Finance Committee and Hatch is the panel's top Republican. They said the IRS has provided them with 21,100 pages of documents.
Back in the Oversight Committee hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, specifically asked for all electronic communications from Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the controversy over the inappropriate behavior at the agency.
"We want every bit of correspondence from Lois Lerner, and you won't give it to us," he charged.
Werfel responded that the emails have to be reviewed so that sensitive information is redacted. "This is a process, and we are providing information on a rolling basis," he said. "We are getting it to you as quickly as possible."