For weeks, Fox News has promoted selective clips of interview transcripts leaked by House Republicans to promote their baseless claim that the White House engineered the Internal Revenue Service's improper screening of conservative groups seeking non-profit status.
Such claims were always speculative. The IRS' inspector general has said that while employees used "improper criteria" to scrutinize conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, that behavior was "not politically biased" and was not driven by the White House. Subsequent testimony leaked by House Republicans has suggested that high-ranking IRS officials in Washington were at first unaware of the improper behavior and stopped it when they learned of it.
The House Oversight Committee's Democrats have now released the full transcript of an interview with another IRS witness which further undermines claims that the White House was at the center of the process. According to the interview subject, a self-described conservative Republican who worked in the IRS' Cincinnati office, an agent he supervised flagged the first Tea Party application that came under scrutiny, asking for guidance on the case.The interview subject denied having had contact with senior IRS officials or the White House about the targeting. According to The Washington Post's Greg Sargent:
In the testimony, the screening manager says that he first became aware of the initial Tea Party application when an "agent who worked for me" asked for "guidance concerning a case for him." The manager testified that in this case he agreed with the agent that "there was not enough information" to figure out whether to grant the group tax exempt status.
"I told him at that point in time I agreed with his thinking," the manager testified, adding that he informed the agent that he would "elevate that issue to my area manager."
"This was the first case that came in that was brought to my attention," the manager continued.
The manager further testified that the Tea Party groups were deliberately grouped together so that they would receive consistent treatment. "There was a lot of concerns about making sure that any cases that had, you know, similar-type activities or items included, that they would be worked by the same agent or same group," the manager testified.
In the testimony, the screening manager also flatly stated he had no reason to believe there was White House involvement.
The screening manager also testifies that he never had any conversation with Lois Lerner, the former director of the Exempt Organizations Division, or former IRS commissioner Douglas Schulmanm about the "screening of Tea Party cases."
It remains to be seen how Fox News will react to statements that so strongly undermine their conclusion. But we have some precedent - on June 9, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, released excerpts from this interview, and said that it showed that "the case is solved" and that the White House had not been involved in the improper behavior. Fox responded by airing his conclusion that "the case is solved" and hosting conservatives to criticize that claim, without laying out Cummings' evidence.