Montana Sen. Max Baucus has plenty of questions about the IRS targeting Tea Party groups—41 of them, to be precise.
The Senate Finance Committee chairman—in a letter co-written with Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch—asked the Internal Revenue Service on Monday to provide answers by May 31, just eleven days from now.
It’s an effort to fill-in the many blanks from the congressional testimony of IRS officials, the White House talking points, and the audit officially released last week by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
“Targeting applicants for tax-exempt status using political labels threatens to undermine the public’s trust in the IRS,” the letter said. “Lack of candor in advising the Senate of this practice is equally troubling.”
New details surfaced Monday afternoon when White House press secretary Jay Carney said that chief of staff Denis McDonough and other top officials learned about the inspector general’s audit in late April. But President Obama was not informed about the report detailing how the IRS began in March, 2010 to intentionally scrutinize conservative groups, Carney claimed.
“We knew the subject of the investigation and we knew the nature of some of the potential findings,” Carney said, “but we did not have a copy of the draft report, we did not know the details, the scope or the motivation surrounding the misconduct, and we did not know who was responsible.”
The Senate Finance Committee intends to reconstruct what happened through a written narrative, spreadsheets, and emails that have been requested from the IRS. As committee chairman, Baucus in 2010 encouraged the IRS to examine the conservative nonprofits forming after the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United removed restrictions on independent campaign expenditures.
The inspector general’s audit quotes IRS officials as saying that no outside pressure caused the targeting, but the committee wants to confirm the validity of that claim.
Question #12: “Was the decision to target any tax-exempt applications for review and subject them to full development or heightened scrutiny influenced or prompted in any way by political pressure directed at the IRS from any members of the Congress or other elected officials?”
As a sign of how exhaustive the committee is trying to be, that question contains the term “any” three times, but as phrased it excludes the possibility of congressional staff or presidential appointees.
The highly legalistic letter seeks the “name, grade, and position title” of any IRS official aware of the policy. The committee seeks to know which disciplinary actions were taken. It contains a 108-word definition of what constitutes a “document,” so that the agency cannot hide material from the committee.
“In addition to providing a narrative response to the above-mentioned inquiries, the information requested and documents should be provided, where possible or practicable, in a searchable or sortable electronic format, such as Excel or PDF.”