National Journal, There's an IRS Investigation That's Bipartisan and Leak-Free. Really.:
The Senate Finance Committee's investigations team is highly caffeinated.
How else could it have gotten through more than a million pages of documents in the last two years? There is an art to the kind of mind-numbing digging that these sleuths do. They set weekly goals for the number of pages reviewed, but they build in time for breaks. The Republican lead investigator tries to make sure her team spends only half its days in document-review mode and the other half doing something else. Every discovery must be fact-checked; the most important goal is to be as meticulous and thorough as possible, no matter how long it takes.
Welcome to the only bipartisan investigation of the Internal Revenue Service in town. The group consists of roughly half a dozen staffers from both Chairman Orrin Hatch's committee roster and that of ranking member Ron Wyden. They have become chummy over the last few years. Republican and Democratic aides meet regularly to share "hot docs" and observations from their individual perusals. As one aide put it, "There's no 'hide the ball' going on."
The goal of the investigation is to reach a common understanding of the facts, which is no small endeavor when it involves one of the highest-profile scandals of the Obama presidency. If IRS officials did actually subject tea-partiers' tax-exempt applications to questionable scrutiny, that is an intolerable breach of public trust, said Hatch and then-Chairman Max Baucus in a 2013 joint letter to the IRS. Hatch was the committee's ranking member at the time, and that letter launched the investigation. Wyden took over the project when Baucus stepped down last year to become the U.S. ambassador to China.
Democrats and Republicans definitely don't agree about whether there was a political conspiracy at work in the IRS before the 2012 elections. Those kinds of conclusions are matters of interpretation and ideology that have derailed other congressional investigations that attempted to include Democrats.
To keep away from such incendiary questions, investigators on the Finance Committee have pledged to focus solely on what happened. Did the IRS selectively subject certain groups based on their political orientation to additional scrutiny when they requested tax-exempt status? What words or phrases did IRS staff look for when determining which applications would be pulled for additional review? Did that strategy violate internal policy? Was the White House involved?
Since the investigators' primary goal is to keep Republicans and Democrats at the table, they work hard to keep politics out of it. ...
The Finance Committee's report will be a different animal, aides from both parties say. They are examining the same questions that others have probed, but they aim to be seen—if such a thing is even possible on Capitol Hill—as completely objective in their conclusions. Something obviously went awry at the IRS. They want to give the public specifics about what it actually was.
Hatch and Wyden plan to offer their staff's findings of IRS misconduct together and (hopefully) free of political statements. That will happen later this year, barring any unforeseen developments. Staffers say the bulk of the report will consist of the facts on which both sides have agreed and the conclusions they have jointly drawn.
But bipartisanship can only go so far. After the joint conclusions, each side will then release its own views about what those agreed-upon facts mean—separately.
March 26, 2015 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink
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