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Tea Party tax-exempt screenings explained by IRS manager in transcript released by Oversight Committee's top Democrat

Elijah Cummings Darrell Issa_Oversight-Government Reform Committee photoRep. Elijah Cummings finally got tired of waiting for his House Oversight and Government Reform colleague Rep. Darrell Issa to produce evidence that Tea Party groups' applications for tax-exempt status were held up for political reasons.

Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee that Issa chairs (both men are pictured, with Cummings at left), said he had seen no such proof. In fact, Cummings said that everything he had seen and heard made no mention of White House involvement in the process.

And today -- after I earlier bemoaned no Internal Revenue Service news from Capitol Hill (not that I'm taking any credit or blame for this latest development!) -- Cummings issued his supporting documentation.

The veteran Maryland lawmaker released the full transcript (two parts because of length; Part 1 here and Part 2 here) of an interview with an Internal Revenue Service Screening Group Manager in Cincinnati, the office where the applications for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status were reviewed. 

That manager, a self-identified "conservative Republican" and 21-year veteran of the IRS, denies that he or anyone on his team was directed by the White House to take these actions or that they were politically motivated.

In conjunction with the release of the interview, Cummings sent a letter to Issa, which he also made public. The ranking Democrat told the chairman:

     I am writing to inform you that I am making available to Members of Congress and the public the full transcript of an interview with the IRS Screening Group Manager in Cincinnati, which was conducted jointly by the Oversight Committee and the Ways and Means Committee as part of our investigation into the identification and screening of Tea Party applicants for tax-exempt status. I am attaching a copy of this transcript, with redactions of specific names to protect individual privacy.

Transcript Shows No White House Involvement or Political Motivation

     This interview transcript provides a detailed first-hand account of how these practices first originated, and it debunks conspiracy theories about how the IRS first started reviewing these cases.  Answering questions from Committee staff for more than five hours, this official — who identified himself as a "conservative Republican" — denied that he or anyone on his team was directed by the White House to take these actions or that they were politically motivated.

     Instead, the Screening Group Manager explained that the very first case at issue in this investigation was initially flagged by one of his own screeners in February 2010. He told us he agreed that this case should be elevated to IRS employees in Washington because it was a "high profile" application in which the organization indicated that it would be engaging in political activity. He explained that he initiated the first effort to gather similar cases in order to ensure their consistent treatment, and that he took this action on his own, without any direction from his superiors, and without any political motivation. He also confirmed that one of his screeners developed terms subsequently identified by the Inspector General as "inappropriate," such as "Patriot" and "9/12 project," but that he did not become aware that his screener was using these terms until more than a year later.

     These statements from the Screening Group Manager directly contradict several serious and unsubstantiated accusations made by you and several other Republican Committee Chairmen over the past month.

Cummings, appearing on MSNBC's Hardball program, told host Chris Matthews that he has tried to defer to the committee chairman, but decided that this transcript release was necessary to refute allegations that there was a political motive and cover-up in the case.

And yes, said Cummings, he would like to see all the transcripts of interviews on the Tea Party application reviews released to the public.

No word yet from Issa or his office on this transcript and Cummings decision to make it public.

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