So Far, Issa’s IRS Transcripts Contain A Whole Lot Of Nothing

Just about all of the substantive information in the excerpts was already revealed in the TIGTA audit.

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In conjunction with Daryl Issa’s appearance on CNN’s State of the Nation this past Sunday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released select excerpts from two interviews between Committee Investigators and Cincinnati IRS employees. While much media attention has been paid Issa’s now infamous accusation that White House spokesman Jay Carney is a “paid liar,” little time has been spent looking to see if there is any substance behind his sensationalism. Unfortunately for Issa, if these excerpts represent the best evidence his committee has of systemic wrong doing, he — and the House Oversight Committee — have very little new information about the situation.

The fact is, just about all of the substantive information in the excerpts was already revealed in the TIGTA audit. For example, Issa claims that passages like the one that follows help demonstrate a Washington connection:

Q: In early 2010, was there a time when you became aware of applications that referenced Tea Party or other conservative groups?
[Interviewee 1 – Most likely one of the initial applications reviewers]: In March of 2010, I was made aware.
******
Q: Okay.  Now, was there a point around this time period when [your supervisor] asked you to do a search for similar applications? 
A: Yes.
Q: To the best of your recollection, when was this request made?
A: Sometime in early March of 2010.
******
Q: Did [your supervisor] give you any indication of the need for the search, any more context? 
A: He told me that Washington, D.C., wanted some cases.
[*****]

Q: Did anyone else ever make a request that you send any cases to Washington?
A:  [Different IRS employee] wanted to have two cases that she couldn’t ‑‑ Washington, D.C. wanted them, but she couldn’t find the paper.  So she requested me, through an email, to find these cases for her and to send them to Washington, D.C.
Q: When was this, what time frame?
A: I don’t recall the time frame, maybe May of 2010.

All of this information, including the involvement of the Washington office, had already been clearly established in the time-line. The audit makes it clear that during this general time-frame (March to May), an effort was made to start analyzing the contents of these applications to determine if there was an apparent pattern of “Potential Political Intervention” that warranted specialist review (see section 1 of TIGTA audit). In fact, by May 2010, a formal request had been made the the EO’s Technical Unit, located in Washington, to provide specific criteria for processing these cases.

So, rather than demonstrating anything new, so far all these statements do is back up what we already know.

This gets to another example of the “Washington Connection” that appears in the transcripts.

[Interviewee 2 – Determinations Office Specialist] Even though I was taking all my direction from EO Technical [Washington, D.C], I didn’t want my name in the paper for being this rogue agent for a project I had no control over. 

The audit clearly specified that the Determinations office was structurally *under* the authority of the Technical Office. Again, this testimony is entirely in keeping with what was already disclosed within the TIGTA audit.

What these quotes do is provide a bit more context to what happened in the early days of the IRS Breakdown. And, ironically, it turns out that the second interviewee unintentionally played a huge role in gumming up the works.

Q: Earlier I believe you informed us that the primary reason for applying for another job in July [2010] was because of the micromanagement from [Washington, DC, IRS Attorney], is that correct? 
[Interviewee 2]: Right.  It was the whole Tea Party.  It was the whole picture.  I mean, it was the micromanagement.  The fact that the subject area was extremely sensitive and it was something that I didn’t want to be associated with. 
Q: Why didn’t you want to be associated with it? 
A: For what happened now.  I mean, rogue agent?  Even though I was taking all my direction from EO Technical [Washington, D.C], I didn’t want my name in the paper for being this rogue agent for a project I had no control over. 
Q: Did you think there was something inappropriate about what was happening in 2010? 
A: Yes.  The inappropriateness was not processing these applications fairly and timely

We know from the transcript that this request for reassignment went through in August of 2010 (TIGTA Audit: p33/ PDF p40). This position remained vacant until October of 2010. Unfortunately, when the position was filled, the new specialist made a decision that completely screwed up the entire review process. From the time-line:

October 2010

Applications involving potential political campaign intervention were transferred to another Determinations Unit specialist. The specialist did not work on the cases while waiting for guidance from the Technical Unit.

Per the Director, Rulings and Agreements, there was a miscommunication about not working the cases while waiting for guidance.
(TIGTA Audit: ibid)

We know from the audit that this stoppage continued for 13 months while this individual waited for the Technical Office to return criteria. We also know that EO management was completely unaware that the work had stopped.

The conventional wisdom is that you should lead with the strongest material that relates to the case you want to make. If this is the strongest that Issa has so far — granted, there are still 18 interviews to go — he’s got a lot of nothing. And, this perhaps gets us to what constitutes the saddest failure of Issa’s fishing expedition. So far it’s done a terrible job of proving any intentional bias. And, if the past performance of his committee is anything to go on, little more than innuendo is going to emerge in the days to come.

However, if, rather than trying to pin this to Obama, his committee concentrated on the larger management problems at the IRS, a lot of good could come from these hearings. For the one damning thing that comes out of the transcript is the fact that at least one person — Interviewee 2 — saw this mess coming. Unfortunately, that foresight led to nothing. And that points, again, to the profound managerial problems with the IRS’s EO division.

Its too bad that, at least based on his press appearances, that this sort of substantive work doesn’t seem to be of particular interest to Representative Issa.ly pursuing.

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Matt Bernius
About Matt Bernius
Matthew studied Cultural Anthropology at Cornell University, researching the intersection of technology and culture. Prior to Cornell, he earned a Masters in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and was a visiting professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He started writing at OTB in May 2013. Follow him on twitter @mattbernius.

Comments

  1. Matt,

    Good analysis. In all honesty, though, until the full transcripts are released these selective releases don’t deserve to be taken seriously.. And if this is the best they’ve got, it’s really not much at all

  2. Matt Bernius says:

    Completely agree Doug. But given Issa’s partisan nature, I have a hard time believing that the complete transcripts will have anything better in them (in terms of making this about intentional political corruption).

  3. @Matt Bernius:

    Indeed, one assumes that the released excerpts are the best they thought they had

  4. DC Loser says:

    So goes Issa’s list of known communists in the IRS.

  5. David M says:

    However, if, rather than trying to pin this to Obama, his committee concentrated on the larger management problems at the IRS, a lot of good could come from these hearings…Its too bad that, at least based on his press appearances, that this sort of substantive work doesn’t seem to be of particular interest to [the GOP]

    Seems to me this could apply just as easily to a host of other pseudo-scandals the GOP has been busy auto-erotically asphyxiating themselves over for the last couple years.

  6. Jeremy R says:

    I don’t get why anyone treats GOP House oversight as consisting of serious, responsible investigators. Leaking out of context excerpts and e-mails and abridged documents to the media is basically the whole point. If you can get them to print your excepts and your accusations and that “this raises questions”, which you always can, and you dole these leaks out periodically to maintain your narrative of gov’t malfeasance or even menace, you’ve succeeded in your partisan goals of abusing your oversight powers to inflict maximum damage on your political foes.

  7. stonetools says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    However, if, rather than trying to pin this to Obama, his committee concentrated on the larger management problems at the IRS, a lot of good could come from these hearings.

    Herein is the liberal dilemma. If you concede that an investigation is warranted, you give hacks like Issa carte blanche to go off on endless and costly witch hunts. If you don’t concede this, you are viewed as obstructing justice.

    It’s like the Iraq War. You could imagine a liberal case for a sensible military intervention in Iraq in 2002/2003.But unfortunately, the people in charge of that military intervention were the Bush Administration, who carried out the war THEY wanted, not the war the liberal hawks wanted.

    At this point, all we can do is to continue to point out Issa’s hackery. The problem is that the right wing media machine will promote and magnify these “revelations” as “proof” that there was a White House conspiracy to persecute right wing groups.And unfortunately, Democratic counter messaging, even if reality based, is drowned out by the right wing megaphone.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    @Jeremy R: Agreed. Issa is trying to feed a narrative that Obama is a dictator with his tentacles everywhere while also feeding a contradictory narrative that he’s detached and incompetent. Not sure that will work well. But he’s very effectively feeding a narrative of mindless GOP hostility and obstruction. Issa may even convince the supposedly liberal MSM that he’s an ass.

  9. Matt Bernius says:

    @gVOR08:

    Issa is trying to feed a narrative that Obama is a dictator with his tentacles everywhere while also feeding a contradictory narrative that he’s detached and incompetent.

    It’s not just Issa — this has been the fundamental contradiction in the vast majority of the partisan attacks on Obama, beginning in 2008 and continuing to this day.

    In part, I think it speaks to the fact that Obama has always been something of a cypher (which is also reflected in the disappointment of progressives with his administration).

  10. Surreal American says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    It’s not so much of a contradiction when you realize the narrative the Right wants to create is that of Obama being a “lazy thug.”

  11. Sam Malone says:

    As someone else, somewhere else, noted; if Issa was held to the same standard he wants to hold Obama to…ol’ Darrell would be in jail for car theft and arson and not collecting a 6 figure salary from us taxpayers for doing nothing of value…which I suppose amounts to theft as well.

  12. Caj says:

    The one that Issa needs to investigate is himself! This guy has some nerve going after others when he’s not much more than a crook himself. Must be something in the water Republicans drink. Rick Scott of Florida is another shady character with a suspect past. The Gaul of these folks is unbelievable! They have absolutely NO shame!

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Surreal American: I would not agree that Obama is a cipher. I would argue that Obama is unusually pragmatic, sometimes to a fault. Most people, particularly in the supposedly liberal MSM, understand bluster and posturing and ideology. Pragmatism, not so much. Most presidents can’t point to a record of legislative accomplishment like Obama’s. much less in the face of such intractable opposition. One example – liberals have been pushing for universal health insurance since the Bullmoose/Progressive platform of 1912. Obama did it. He seems to understand the old rule that you can get anything done, as long as you don’t demand the credit for it.

    Highly recommend Kloppenberg, Reading Obama.

  14. Tillman says:

    A friend of a brother of mine on Facebook, who’s discovered his libertarian ideology since last December or so, posted a bit on these transcripts and Issa’s interview. Notably, they were just the transcripts, no real context, not even a video of the interview with Candy Crowley. I imagine some of the fire in that post would be snuffed if you included any of the two.

  15. Matt Bernius says:

    @Tillman:
    Feel free to point him in the direction of this, or any of my past articles.

    Generally speaking, the energy that is typically put into outrage would be better channeled into looking at context. But as we all know, righteous outrage is far less fun than boring context.

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