Rep. Cummings claims evidence IRS scandal didn't originate in D.C.

Elijah Cummings
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) during a press conference at the National Press Club April 2, 2013.
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The top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is calling attention to evidence that seemingly contradicts theclaims from congressional Republicans that the IRS targeting of conservative groups originated in Washington, D.C.

In a letter to committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., highlights the testimony of an IRS manager in Cincinnati who oversaw the screening process for tax-exempt groups. In his testimony, the IRS manager, who identifies himself as a "conservative Republican," told committee staff members that he had no reason to believe the White House was involved in the targeting scandal, and that he did not believe the targeting was motivated by a political bias against conservatives.

In his letter, Cummings told Issa that his "extreme accusations" of Washington's involvement in the IRS scandal were "unsubstantiated," and that he had "damaged" the credibility of the oversight committee.

"Your approach in all of these cases has been to accuse first, and then go in search of evidence to back up your claims," Cummings wrote. "Rather than apologizing or correcting the record when the evidence does not fit your narrative, you have selectively leaked excerpts of interview transcripts, documents, and other information, and you have withheld evidence that directly contradicts your claims, is exculpatory, or provides a more complete and fair understanding of the facts."

Appearing Sunday on "Face the Nation," Cummings argued that Issa "has a tendency to make strong allegations and then go chasing the facts and usually never finding them.

"We have a situation here where we now have interviewed the manager of the exempt office in Cincinnati of the IRS," Cummings went on. "He is a conservative, 21-year veteran who spent six hours with our committee the other day talking in an interview and he explained to us that this tea party situation started with one case back in 2010 somebody - one of his screeners - brought it to him, he looked at it and said - he said - we must send this to the technical office in Washington, because this is high profile, this is a unique situation and we want to have consistency. So Washington's IRS office technical office did not ask him for the case, he sent it."

Full coverage of the IRS targeting controversy

On Thursday, committee staff conducted an interview with the IRS manager and asked him, "Do you have any reason to believe that anyone in the White House was involved in the decision to screen tea party cases?"

"I have no reason to believe that," the manager replied.

He said he was not aware of any political bias against conservatives among employees in the Cincinnati IRS office, and that he also was not aware of any political motivations behind the centralizing and screening of applications for tax-exempt status from conservative tea party organizations.

When asked more specifically whether he believed the targeting was undertaken to punish the President's political enemies, he responded, "I do not believe the screening of these cases had anything to do other than consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development."

The IRS manager also offered a broader defense of the decision to scrutinize conservative groups, saying the "high profile" nature of the cases - and a desire for "consistency" - compelled IRS agents in Cincinnati to forward some of the conservative groups' applications to Washington, D.C.

While Issa has not directly stated that the White House was involved in the decision to target conservative groups, he has suggested that the IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C. was responsible for the targeting, and that it was motivated by a desire to punish President Obama's political enemies.

On June 2, Issa said during an interview on CNN that the decision to scrutinize conservative groups was "directly being ordered from Washington."

"This is a problem that was coordinated, in all likelihood, right ouf of Washington headquarters, and we're getting to proving it," he said.

On CNN, he also called White House press secretary a "paid liar," accusing the administration of "making up things" and "saying whatever is convenient at the time" to suit their preferred narrative.

In May, Issa told CBS This Morning that the IRS scrutiny was "effectively" the "targeting of the president's political enemies" and accused the administration of lying "about it during the election year so that it wasn't discovered till afterwards."

That line of attack -- that officials in Washington were deliberately manipulating the tax code as a weapon against the president's political enemies -- was taken up by other Republicans, including Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., who told Fox News, "The enemies list out of the White House that the IRS was engaged in shutting down or trying to shut down the conservative political viewpoint across the country."