House Republicans seeking a direct link between President Obama and the IRS targeting of conservative groups -- a connection Democrats say is essential for a legitimate White House scandal -- have released a report detailing dozens of examples that they say prove the president and fellow Democrats pressured the agency to act.
The influence campaign unofficially started during Obama’s January 2010 State of the Union Address in which he “delivered a stunning rebuke” of the Supreme Court decision in favor of the group Citizens United, among the IRS’s first and biggest targets, according to the 77-page report released Monday by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The decision in part allowed campaign donors to remain anonymous.
“The Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests,” Obama said in the address. “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse by foreign entities. ... And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.”
The report attempts to show that Obama combined his master oratory skills with the “indisputably powerful” presidential bully pulpit to sound a clarion call that was heard by news outlets shaping the national agenda and that led IRS official Lois Learner to start targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status.
“IRS employees read and acted upon the news reports,” the committee report concludes. “Put simply, as the president’s political rhetoric drove the national dialogue and shaped public opinion, the IRS received and responded to the political stimuli.”
Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the top Democrat on the GOP-led House oversight committee, said the report is “partisan” and “recycles old allegations” already debunked by an inspector general and all 41 IRS and Treasury Department employees interviewed by the committee.
“None of [them] identified any White House involvement or political motivation in the screening of tax exempt applicants,” Cummings said.
The report -- which includes out takes from roughly 100 news stories, lawmakers’ remarks and Lerner emails through 2013 -- argues that Obama continued his “rhetorical assault” in campaign-style speeches across the country and that the IRS within a month of his national address began targeting the tax-exempt applications.
Among the out takes in the report -- titled “Pressure from the Left Led the IRS and DOJ to Restrict Freedom of Speech” -- are roughly 65 examples of Obama or Capitol Hill Democrats objecting to the high court decision or supporting their failed Disclosure Act, which after the decision attempted to limit campaign spending by amending federal law.
“The decision undermines democracy and empowers the powerful,” then- Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said in June 2010 House floor speech in support of the legislation. “It opens the floodgates to a corporate takeover of our elections and invites unrestricted special interest dollars in our campaigns.”
The report found that the Justice Department got involved by October 2010, arranging a meeting with the IRS to discuss how the high court’s decision would impact campaign-finance law.
That same month, Lerner, whose division processed the applications and who retired amid the scandal, talked about the political pressure on the IRS to “fix the problem” posed by Citizens United, saying “everyone is up in arms” about the decision and are screaming at the IRS to resolve the issue before the 2012 presidential elections, according to the report.
The White House did not respond Monday to a request for comment on the report but responded to congressional Republicans’ complaints about missing Lerner emails.
Spokesman Josh Earnest said the Internal Revenue Service has engaged in a good faith effort to find the emails and called GOP criticism “far-fetched."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, asked by Fox News if he thought the administration would go so far as to delete the emails, replied, “I do. I think you can't put anything past this administration.”
Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said, “We're pressing (the IRS) to get answers as to whether any relevant information is missing and whether the committee has gotten everything it needs on this investigation.”
The IRS says the emails disappeared when Lerner’s computer crashed in 2011. Earnest also said the agency has produced 67,000 of her emails and has tried to track down the missing ones through other sources and those recovered have been provided to Congress.
The Associated Press contributed to this story