Testimony that Supposedly “Solved” the IRS Scandal Leaves More Questions than Answers
200 Pages of Transcripts Don’t Answer the Lingering Questions on IRS Targeting
Meet John Schafer, the “conservative Republican” IRS screening manager in Cincinnati the Left says originated, orchestrated, and oversaw the vast complexity of an agency-wide scheme to target Tea Party groups, invasively scrutinize conservative groups, and delay their tax-exempt applications for years.
“[M]y realm was so low down, and after the initial review of the case, which was, you know, within 3 days after assignment, I became less and less aware of whatever happened above me,” he told congressional investigators.
Wait, isn’t this the guy the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, blamed the entire scandal on, said conservatives were leading a “witch hunt,” and said case “solved”?
Pouring over the more than 200 pages of transcripts Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) released in an ill-advised attempt to insulate President Obama and end the inquiry doesn’t accomplish the Left’s goal, but does reveal some very eye-opening details.
- Mr. Shafer’s immediate supervisor was in El Monte, CA – an IRS office that several of our clients received targeted inquiry letters from.
- Mr. Shafer himself agreed that “Washington was involved.”
- He was “not aware” of anyone at any level ever telling him to stop doing what he was doing with his group’s screening of cases.
- Until he left his position as screening manager on March 9, 2013, every “potential Tea Party case” that came through his screening group “would go to Group 7822.”
- He unequivocally stated, “I had nothing to do with the development, the update, or the distribution of the BOLO.” (Be On the LookOut list) However, “Everyone in EO Determination received the BOLO.”
- He gave his team essentially the same instructions he had been given by his supervisors, originating with the Exempt Organizations (EO) Technical office in Washington. He instructed his screeners that “if there was a case that appeared on the BOLO, they were to transfer it to Group 7822,” because “I was told they should send those to 7822.”
- He followed orders from his superiors without questioning them. When specifically asked whether he thought the request from “EO Technical” regarding “Tea Party cases” was “appropriate,” he stated, “[S]ure, I thought it was appropriate, because they requested it.” Also stating, “If they request cases from EO Technical, that is part of my responsibility, to honor that request . . . .” He again reiterated, “I saw nothing that was inappropriate about transferring cases to a group or agent that I was instructed to do so by my manager.”
- Asked specifically if anyone ever told him not to use the issues his screeners were screening for, he replied, “Not to my knowledge.” He was also specifically asked, “Were concerns expressed by Lois Lerner ever communicated to you?” – specifically about how his team was identifying Tea Party cases. His response, “Not to my recollection.” In other words, he and his team were never told to stop doing what they were doing.
- He explained the limited nature and scope of his review, stating that he and his team “didn’t make phone calls, they didn’t write letters, they didn’t do Internet research, they didn’t do any follow-ups . . . .”
- He was “surprised” that a senior IRS agent from the Office of Rulings and Agreements, ostensibly Holly Paz, participated in his interview with TIGTA. He explained, “When I was asked to interview with TIGTA, she was by my side. I haven’t been in her presence that many times, but, you know, it has been a few times.” He reiterated that she “was sitting next to me in the – in my TIGTA interview.” “She sat by my side. . . . Right to my right,” he again reiterated. “It was a surprise to me. . . . normally . . . these interviews were one-to-one,” he said. Yet, “she was there,” and she was there for the entire interview – the only time he experienced something like that in a TIGTA interview.
- In a bit of irony, when he was asked how he learned that the Oversight committee wanted to speak with him, he replied, “I received a notice from Joseph Grant instructing me that I was to voluntarily appear . . . .”
What Representative Cummings focuses on, however, in these 200 plus pages of transcripts is the initial case. This is how he and his allies on the Left claim it all began, but even that leaves more questions than answers.
Mr. Shafer said that he “became aware” of what he called the first “Tea Party” case on or before February 25, 2010, when “an agent who worked for me” “came to my office” and expressed concerns about “a case that had been assigned to him” “because of media attention that he had seen, he had concerns about this being a high-profile case.”
He explained that “in the past, we’ve had high profile cases that were centered around celebrities, for example . . . .” In “this particular instance,” he said, it was “high profile” because it was “something that was having media attention; in other words, it was in the newspaper quite a bit about, you know, Tea Party cases or Tea Party organizations.” He said that this “type of case may be considered a high-profile case, and that — and that’s the major — that’s probably the reason that was submitted up the chain to make a determine by EO Technical eventually, not because of the issue of the political activity.” He explained that determination was made “[b]ecause that was the direction that I had been given about cases that demonstrated the potential to be high-[profile] case.”
He said that the same day it was brought to his attention, he sent this particular “high profile” case to his supervisor in California. She in turn sent it up the chain to the EO Technical unit in Washington, D.C. The very next day, February 26, 2010, he received a response: “EO Technical would like the case. Please thank [the agent who initially flagged it] for identifying the issue and elevating it.” He said that EO Technical also told him, “I think sending it up here is a good idea, given the potential for media interest.”
He further explained, “My job was to review these situations, and I would elevate them for someone who would make their decision. It was not my position to evaluate if something made sense or not.”
He and his team then packaged that one case up and sent it to EO Technical within weeks, by late February or early March 2010.
He said that after “EO Technical said yes, this is a high profile case, we want that, in my mind is that is we found another one or someone came to me the next day with another one that had the same issues in this case then it would lead me to say . . . I need to check to see if this high profile case, which was similar to the one the accepted, you know, if they want that one also.” So On March 16, 2010, he sent an email up the chain that “we have identified a total of 10 Tea Party cases.”
There was more back in forth waiting for further direction, but by mid to late 2010, he had been told that all Tea Party cases should be sent to group 7822, which is what his team continued to do until at least March of this year when he was reassigned to another group. He said that after that point he didn’t see the cases, they went straight from his screeners to group 7822, and that he was unaware what criteria they were using but assumed the BOLO list that was eventually created was a factor.
His answer to questions about criteria used to screen Tea Party cases, other than emphatically stating that he did not develop criteria, was to state that he was “unaware” of how determinations were made. Essentially, he was doing what he was told, without question, because it came directly from Washington.
Once the applications were assigned to group 7822, he stated that he was unaware of what happened to them or what process they went through.
This one manager’s testimony cannot be viewed in a vacuum. It raises more questions than answers. It does not address how the BOLO list was created, why applications were delayed, who developed the unconstitutionally intrusive questions, or any definitive answers about the complexities of this scandal. In fact, it calls in to question claims that the targeting ended in 2012, as we have seen evidenced by letters the ACLJ’s clients continue to receive.
Moreover, while group 7822 is one IRS group our clients received letters from, as my colleague David French explained, “we’ve also dealt with eleven other IRS groups (including groups in California) and a Washington division: Group 7821, Group 7823, Group 7824, Group 7827, Group 7828, Group 7829, Group 7830, Group 7838, EOG-7887, EOG 7888, and the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division in Washington, D.C.”
The investigation is far from over. Conclusory statements from Members of Congress laying blame on low-level employees, accosting those performing the investigation, releasing full transcripts that could cloud the testimony of future witnesses and interviewees is in itself a political stunt.
The American people deserve better. We deserve the truth. The victims deserve the abuse to end, and the respect of their government.
Matthew Clark is Associate Counsel for Government Affairs and Media Advocacy with the ACLJ. A lifelong citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia, he lives with his wife and three boys in Northern Virginia. Follow Matthew Clark: @_MatthewClark.