IRS inspector general J. Russell George is one of the few people to emerge from the agency’s scandal looking good thanks to his just-the-facts report on the controversial practice of targeting conservative groups.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa slammed George on Wednesday for not alerting Congress to the targeting of conservative groups earlier. It’s the toughest swing anyone has taken at George over the course of three congressional hearings probing the IRS scandal.
Issa called his failure to inform lawmakers the “greatest failing of an otherwise well regarded inspector” and implied that he didn’t live up to what is expected of such watchdogs in the law.
“You have a responsibility to keep us continually, and according to statue, equally informed,” Issa said. “In this case, it appears you did not. Would you agree with that?”
“No actually,” George answered, explaining that he should not brief Congress until all the information had been analyzed and a solid, correct conclusion has been made. “There are established procedures for conducting an audit. … It would be impractical to give you partial information which might not be accurate. It would be counterproductive, sir, if we were to do that.”
But Issa said, “That is not the statute.”
Issa is referring to part of the Inspector General Act that requires watchdogs to report serious problems to Congress through the head of an agency within seven days. It’s known as the “seven-day rule” — but it’s often used sparingly.
The Oversight Committee asked the inspector general about conservative group targeting a number of times, and Issa read some of the emails in the hearing Wednesday.
George also raised concerns that incremental information provided to lawmakers would ultimately leak to the public.
“That is not fair to the people we are investigating,” George said.
Issa responded that the White House is the source of plenty of leaks as well.
Meanwhile, Rep. Stephen Lynch warned IRS officials that a special prosecutor might be named if the IRS keeps “stonewalling” investigations.
“There will be hell to pay,” he said.