Last week, TIGTA revealed the existence of around 2500 documents “relating to investigations of the improper disclosure of confidential taxpayer information by the IRS to the White House.” December 1st was the deadline for the Department of Justice’s tax department to turn over those documents, as ordered by a judge. You can read more of that background story here.
The group involved in the FOIA request for documents is called “Cause of Action”, and they consider themselves a government watchdog of sorts. In an email last week from TIGTA on the matter, the department asked for more time (from Dec 1 to Dec 15) to go through the remaining 500 of the 2500 documents to determine if they were pertinent. This acknowledgment of the documents seemed promising that TIGTA would be forthcoming on the matter, as they have been pretty above board during the IRS Scandal in general.
However, yesterday TIGTA appeared to retreat from its openness by withholding the bulk of the documents. A letter from TIGTA counsel to the group noted that there were 2,509 pages of documents “potentially responsive to your request”, and of those, 2,043 were in fact responsive. However, TIGTA cited tax code and privacy as the reason not to disclose those documents, saying “All of the 2,043 pages of documents we have determined to be responsive were collected by the Secretary of the Treasury with respect to the determination of possible liability under Title 26 of the United States Code. These pages consist of return information protected by 26 U.S.C. § 6103 and may not be disclosed absent an express statutory exception.”
The group will receive 466 documents on December 15 that apparently aren’t protected information. However, the sheer number of documents being withheld, which are acknowledged to a) be correspondence between the White House and IRS, and b) to contain protected “return information” reveal a stunning breach of propriety. The letter also contained a fairly lame notation that “Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is now looking into ‘potential liability’ that his tax aides broke laws in sharing taxpayer information with the White House.”
Forbes raised some interesting points on the matter: “A key question is whether any officials at the White House have ever asked anyone over at the IRS to transmit private taxpayer information to the White House in violation of law. Another question, regardless of whether the White House asked for any taxpayer information, is whether the IRS ever transmitted any.”
So is there a pattern of targeting from the White House? And will the hard drive containing the withheld documents suddenly crash?
Forbes sullenly concluded that “the data may seem unimportant, and hopefully it will turn out to be. Still, the privacy protections for taxpayer data held by the IRS are among the most sensitive parts of the tax law. That makes any alleged transgressions of these rules serious. It makes this topic arguably the worst part of the IRS scandal so far.”
Indeed. 2000+ documents linking the IRS and the White House, yet unavailable for review. Is there still “no smidgen of corruption”?