WASHINGTON -- One week after he released partial transcripts of interviews with IRS officials involved in the scandal surrounding the targeting of conservative groups, the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said releasing the full transcripts would be "reckless" and "irresponsible."
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) pushed back Tuesday against calls to put out more information on the committee's investigation into the controversy, sparked after a Treasury Department Inspector General report revealed the IRS had singled out tea party groups applying for nonprofit status for extra scrutiny. Responding specifically to criticism from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democratic member of the committee, Issa said that releasing full interviews conducted with IRS employees would hurt the ongoing investigation.
"Your decision to publicly announce that the investigation should wrap up was irresponsible, but not surprising," said Issa, in a letter to Cummings. "However, your push to release entire transcripts from witness interviews while the investigation remains active was reckless and threatened to undermine the integrity of the Committee’s investigation."
The position is a tenuous one for Issa, who during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" just over a week ago promised that the full transcripts would be released. On that same program, Issa revealed several partial transcripts that suggested the directive to screen tea party groups came from officials in Washington.
Since then, The Huffington Post has sent four emails asking Issa's office when the full transcripts would be made public. Not one was returned. When asked why Issa's release of a partial transcript was fine but he opposed releasing the transcripts in full, a spokesman for the congressman referred HuffPost to another statement.
“Limited releases of testimony may also serve to empower other witnesses to become whistleblowers and serve to vindicate individuals who have been subjected to criticism or retaliation at the hands of their managers," said Issa, in that statement. "On the other hand, if a full transcript were released, it would serve as a roadmap of the Committee’s investigation."
It could take weeks, if not months, to see the full transcripts should the committee wait to release them until the investigation is completed. According to a Democratic aide on the committee, investigators have interviewed five IRS employees so far and have 18 more to go. In addition, investigators are hoping to look through hundred of thousands of documents that could shed light on the tax agency's controversial screening practices.
Unwilling to allow the partial transcripts Issa released to be the only evidence in the public record, Cummings this week also released segments of interviews. In a Sunday memo to his colleagues on the oversight committee, the congressman said that a manager in the IRS Cincinnati office who oversaw the nonprofit screening said that no one in Washington ordered him to employ the practice of targeting tea party groups.
"Although the Committee interviewed a self-identified ‘conservative Republican’ who denied any White House involvement or any political motivation for screening Tea Party cases, Chairman Issa now appears to be going back on his promise to release the full interview transcripts of IRS employees," said Cummings, in a statement. "Chairman Issa changes his mind so fast that even when I agree with him, we’re not on the same page. I fully support responsible oversight, but cherry picking transcript excerpts to fuel partisan and unsubstantiated claims is not a credible or effective way to investigate."
On Tuesday, an aide to Cummings said the congressman would release the full transcripts of the already completed interviews by the end of the week, if Issa did not do so himself -- though the aide also cautioned that those plans could change.
The squabbling between the chairman and ranking member of the oversight committee has made the conversation surrounding the scandal far more contentious. When news first broke that the IRS had targeted conservative groups, there was near bipartisan condemnation of the agency.
Over time, however, politics has entered the debate, and Issa's handling of the committee's investigation has been criticized as a poorly disguised attempt to tie the issue to the president.
When Issa called White House Press Secretary Jay Carney a "paid liar" earlier this month, he was criticized publicly by Democrats and privately by his own party. More recently, Republicans have been more open in their concerns about where the investigation is heading.
As Politico reported on Tuesday:
Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, a senior Ways and Means Republican who chairs the panel’s Oversight subcommittee, criticized Issa’s tactics, saying the release of partial transcripts could “adversely alter our ability to get future information from other IRS employees.”
“Just simply from a process standpoint, you don’t want to do that and alter what others might say,” Boustany told POLITICO. “I really am concerned that it could tip this into the political realm rather than a true detailed investigation to get the facts out.”
He added: “A lot of this has to be done quietly, obviously, as we piece together what has happened, and once we piece it together and get the firm proof, then you can come out” and say what happened.
DISCLOSURE: This reporter's spouse works for the White House Counsel's Office on congressional oversight, but not on matters pertaining to the IRS.
Also on HuffPost:
President Barack Obama
"This is pretty straightforward," Obama said at a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/obama-irs-scandal_n_3266577.html" target="_blank">press conference</a>. "If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that is outrageous, and there is no place for it, and they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity and people have to have confidence that they are applying the laws in a non-partisan way. You should feel that way regardless of party." (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
Rubio <a href="http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=bc8ce2a9-4e95-4792-8744-501d0c1b63b3" target="_blank">penned a letter</a> to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew demanding the IRS commissioner's resignation. The letter begins: "Recent revelations about the Internal Revenue Service’s selective and deliberate targeting of conservative organizations are outrageous and seriously concerning. This years-long abuse of government power is an assault on the free speech rights of all Americans. This direct assault on our Constitution further justifies the American people’s distrust in government and its ability to properly implement our laws." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)
"The admission by the Obama administration that the Internal Revenue Service targeted political opponents echoes some of the most shameful abuses of government power in 20th-century American history. Today, we are left with serious questions: who is ultimately responsible for this travesty? What actions will the Obama administration take to hold them accountable? And have other federal agencies used government powers to attack Americans for partisan reasons? House Republicans have made oversight of federal agencies a top priority on behalf of the American people, and I applaud the work that members such as Charles Boustany, Darrell Issa and Jim Jordan have done to bring this issue to light. I also strongly support Sen. McConnell’s call for a transparent, government-wide review to ensure similar practices are not happening elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy," Boehner said in a <a href="http://www.speaker.gov/press-release/speaker-boehner-statement-irs-targeting-conservative-groups" target="_blank">statement</a>. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.)
Buchanan also <a href="http://buchanan.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4787:buchanan-to-treasury-secretary-the-nations-trust-in-government-was-betrayed&catid=1:latest-news" target="_blank">wrote a letter</a> calling for the IRS commissioner's resignation. His letter reads: "On March 22, 2012, as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee which oversees the IRS, we heard then-Commissioner Douglas Shulman clearly state that the IRS did not engage in the practices of which it is now accused saying "there is absolutely no targeting." Yet, less than a year earlier, Commissioner Shulman's own deputy, Lois Lerner, was made aware that such malpractice had indeed occurred. It became evident that groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in their names were extremely vulnerable to auditing harassment. Even nonprofit organizations that sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution were unfairly singled out for scrutiny. The nation's trust in government was betrayed by this unconscionable behavior. On behalf of my constituents, your immediate response is not only warranted but essential to clearing up a matter that would have our founding fathers rolling in their graves." (AP Photo/Steve Nesius, File)
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.)
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas)
Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.)
"It is unconscionable that the IRS deliberately targeted individuals based on their political beliefs. Absolutely no one should come under extra scrutiny from the IRS because of their political affiliation. It’s simply un-American," Paulsen said in a <a href="http://paulsen.house.gov/press-releases/paulsen-statement-on-fridays-hearing-examining-irs-targeting-conservative-groups/" target="_blank">statement</a>. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas)
“I have long been concerned with reports that the IRS has unfairly targeted some political groups over others – a charge that they have repeatedly denied. In March 2012, I sent IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman a letter demanding an explanation of this unacceptable behavior. Now, more than a year later, the IRS has admitted to what we have long suspected – it was targeting tea party groups. The IRS’s actions are unacceptable, and I commend Chairman Dave Camp and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany for moving forward with a full investigation. We will continue to work to ensure there are protections in place so no American, regardless of political affiliation, has their right to free speech threatened by the IRS," Marchant said in a <a href="http://marchant.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=333635" target="_blank">statement</a>. (Photo By Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah)
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.)
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
<i>CORRECTION: An earlier version of this slideshow incorrectly identified Udall as a Republican.</i>
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.)
Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.)
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)
“Today’s revelation that the IRS targeted average Americans using taxpayer dollars solely for disagreeing with them politically is completely unacceptable from this Administration. “Partisan politics have consistently characterized this White House, and the Administration must take immediate disciplinary action and ensure American citizens are not subject to this type of Orwellian persecution again," Cornyn said in a <a href="http://www.cornyn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=NewsReleases&ContentRecord_id=ebc9edeb-f748-45cf-a6b3-0143c6cb41c0" target="_blank">statement</a>. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)