(CNSNews.com) - In a belated and incomplete response to the House Ways and Means Committee’s request for Internal Revenue Service documents relating to the agency’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups for heightened scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status, Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel has informed the committee that the agency is in the process of reviewing approximately 64,600,000 pages of documents from IRS officials “who may have potentially relevant information” about the targeting.
Werfel also suggested to the committee that he believes the ultimate answers to who knew what and when in the White House and the Treasury Department about the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups will be discovered by the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration and Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department, which are conducting the administration's internal investigations of this matter.
On May 14, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R.-Mich.) and Ranking Member Sander Levin (D.-Mich.) sent the IRS a letter asking thirteen questions about the agency’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups. These questions included requests for “all documents and communications” on the matter between the IRS and the Treasury and between the IRS and the White House.
The committee asked the IRS to comply with this request by May 21—a filing deadline the IRS missed.
Now, in a letter to Camp and Levin dated June 4, Acting Commissioner Werfel says the IRS is working on partially complying with the request, but will not comply completely because, according to Werfel, fully answering some of the committee’s questions would be illegal.
“Please note that I cannot provide information requested in certain questions because Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 6104 prohibits the disclosure of information about specific taxpayers unless the disclosure is authorized by some provision in the section.”
Werfel then warned that insofar as the IRS believes it can legally answer Congress's questions, it will take time to do so because the agency has received “similar inquiries” from other congressional committees and because there is such a massive volume of internal IRS documents that could contain information about the agency’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups.
“We have reviewed these requests and are in the process of gathering relevant, responsive information,” wrote Werfel. “As part of this process, we have directed our document retention and retrieval specialists to perform an electronic data search of the records of all personnel we have identified who may have potentially relevant information.”
“As of May 28, 2013, we had collected 646 gigabytes of raw electronically stored information (ESI),” said Werfel. “One gigabyte of data is approximately 100,000 pages of documents.”
646 gigabytes multiplied by 100,000 pages equals 64,600,000 pages.
“Much of the ESI will require decryption, which often corrupts files that must be restored manually before the search process can begin,” said Werfel. “Once we have decrypted information, we can search it according to requested terms. We then review ‘hits’ to ensure they are responsive. As a result, the time frame for completion depends on several factors, including the number of custodians, search terms, and hits.”
Werfel told Camp and Levin that as the IRS worked through these documents it would provide the committee with “a rolling production” of material relevant to the committee’s request.
In his individual responses to the committee’s thirteen specific questions, Werfel generally supplied vague non-specific answers, repeatedly referencing not only the IRS's need to spend more time sifting through its own records, but also suggesting that the ultimate answers may not come from the IRS itself but from the investigations being conducted by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and by Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department.
“I will supplement these responses as additional information becomes available,” Acting Commissioner Werfel said to the committee in prefacing his generalized answers to the committee's specific questions, “however, a number of your questions ask for specific facts and circumstances regarding who knew about the aforementioned matters, when they found out, and what actions (if any) they took, and why. I expect that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and TIGTA investigations currently underway will provide a comprehensive picture of the facts and circumstances surrounding the matter.”
Werfel’s specific response to the committee’s specific request for “all documents and communications between the IRS and the White House on this matter,” provided no documents or records and named no names or dates.
The written exchange on the question was as follows:
Ways and Means Committee: “Provide all documents and communications between the IRS and the White House on this matter.”
Werfel: “Several current and former employees have testified before your committee as to their individual recollections of the timeline of events. As our electronic discovery process progresses, we will provide to you any relevant documents and communications. As noted above, the TIGTA and DOJ investigations should shed additional light on the facts, and we defer to the results of those investigations. If you require additional information from former employees, please let us know and we can provide their attorneys’ names to you.”
Werfel gave the committee literally the same answer—verbatim—to the question: “Provide all documents and communications between the IRS and Treasury on this matter.”
Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp indicated that his committee will continue its investigation until its questions are answered.
“Based on the limited information we have received, it is clear that this investigation is far greater in breadth and scope than many may have imagined when the Treasury Inspector General first issued its report," said Camp. "The sheer volume of documents and the work that must be done to finish interviews and review the information provided by the IRS will require both time and patience. Congress is determined to get the facts of who was involved, when it occurred and why any American was ever targeted by the IRS based on their personal beliefs, and will pursue this investigation until we have answers to those questions.”