Reports of IRS Audits Disputed: McCurry: Papers Are Not `Credible'
Bedard, Paul, Scarborough, Rowan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
The White House yesterday denied it has encouraged the Internal Revenue Service to audit conservative groups, charging that newspapers reporting the high number of IRS audits of its critics are not "credible."
White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry, defending his own credibility for misleading reporters on two unrelated stories, said "no credible news organization" had reported on the audits - an apparent slap at The Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune, each of which has run articles about the IRS probes.
But in a related matter, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, yesterday spoke to the accuracy of The Times' reporting when he conceded his office erred in identifying a group aligned with House Speaker Newt Gingrich as being the target of an IRS audit.
In a telephone interview with The Times, Mr. Rangel blamed an aide for inserting the name of the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation into an unauthorized press release issued by his Washington office on Dec. 23.
"I had not seen the release, nor had I approved it," said Mr. Rangel, the ranking Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
The Times reported yesterday that the Rangel press statement had been written two weeks before the IRS itself wrote its official notification letter to the Lincoln Foundation, one of the groups at the center of ethics complaints against Mr. Gingrich.
It is a violation of federal law for government officials to publicly reveal confidential IRS information.
Mr. Rangel said his legislative director, Emile Milne, drafted the release and "drew an inference" that the Lincoln Foundation was an audit target. He said there had been previous news reports that two college courses linked to the House speaker were being audited.
"I understand this was the first tax release Emile handled, and his name should not have been put there," Mr. Rangel said.
Said Mr. Milne: "There's paper flying all over this place about different foundations that were in violation, allegations, that I drew inferences from. I can tell you Mr. Rangel made it so clear to me - he almost blew my head off - that no more tax releases are coming from this office.
"There was definitely no inside information I had, and, of course, Mr. Rangel has no inside information," he said. Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, has called on the Justice Department to investigate whether Mr. Rangel's office received confidential tax information during the Democrats' orchestrated attacks on Mr. Gingrich.
Mr. Rangel yesterday distributed a letter to his colleagues denying wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, Mr. McCurry issued high praise for the IRS and jokingly suggested that anyone having problems with the tax-collection agency should "pick up the phone and call and yell at them, and there's someone who is supposed to listen very carefully. …