Opening Statement – Chairman Jason Chaffetz
“IRS: TIGTA Update”
The Internal Revenue Service. The IRS
Perhaps no other agency, no other institution in our government causes more fear, more concern, more distress, or outright panic at the mere mention of their name than the IRS.
Entanglement with the IRS is never good. Most Americans work hard, pay their taxes and just want to live a life free of harassment.
And most of the IRS employees are good, decent, hardworking, patriotic civil servants doing a tough job, working for their government and are honest in their dealings. But not all of them.
Nearly two years ago the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, often referred to as TIGTA, did an audit that confirmed what many on this committee had feared and heard; the IRS was targeting and delaying the applications for 501(c)4 status of conservative non-profit organizations because of their political beliefs.
The IRS was on the lookout for applications that: focused on the national debt, “criticize how the country is run” or that sought to educate the public on how to “make America a better place to live.”
These were conservatives trying to play by the rules, but some in the IRS didn’t want them in the game. They didn’t want them to have a voice.
When it was first revealed that the IRS was targeting Americans and suppressing their First Amendment rights because of their political beliefs, President Obama said this:
“If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous. And there’s no place for it.”
“And they have to be held fully accountable. Because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they’re . . . applying the laws in a nonpartisan way.”
I agreed with the President then. He was exactly right. But by the time the Superbowl rolled around, before any of the investigations were complete, the President concluded there was “Not even a smidgen of corruption.” I have no idea how he came to that definitive conclusion without all the facts, but he obviously sent a signal as to how he would like this to be concluded.
On the one hand the President has come to a conclusion and on the other there is an on-going investigation by the Inspector General and the Department of Justice.
But Congress has a role.
As the new Chairman of this Committee I thought it would be appropriate to get an update on the investigation from the Inspector General.
I want us to focus on the facts, wherever they may lead us. And thus far, the IRS, and specifically its Commissioner, has given us a lot of different answers to some fairly simple questions.
The Oversight Committee subpoenaed the IRS in Aug. 2013 seeking emails from Lois Lerner’s, as well as others involved in the targeting.
Months later we did not have all the Lois Lerner emails. In an Oversight hearing on March 26, 2014 Commissioner Koskinen testified under oath he had all the emails and he would produce all the emails.
Yet on June 13, 2014 the IRS sent a letter to Senate Finance stating a multi-year tranche of Lois Lerner’s emails had been destroyed.
June 13, 2014 letter to Senate Finance Committee: “IRS confirmed the backup tapes from 2011 no longer exist because they have been recycled pursuant to the IRS normal policy.”
June 20, 2014 before Ways & Means:
Chairman Camp: “Your letter describes the Lois Lerner emails as being unrecoverable.” Commissioner Koskinen: “Correct”
Feb. 11, 2015 in an Oversight hearing:
The IRS Commissioner has said they went to “great lengths” and made “extraordinary efforts” to recover the emails.
This is but a small sampling of the Commissioner’s definitive and precise statements about the missing emails. Yet, I believe what we will hear this evening is far different than what we were led to believe.
To the men and women in the Inspector General’s office, we thank you for the hard work, long days, and we look forward to ultimately reading your final report.