No special prosecutor needed for U.S. tax agency probe: Justice Dept

WASHINGTON Thu Jul 17, 2014 4:37pm EDT

U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole answers questions during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the House-passed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reform bill while on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 5, 2014 file photo.  REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole answers questions during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the House-passed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reform bill while on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 5, 2014 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top Justice Department official, deflecting demands from Republicans, said on Thursday that a special prosecutor was not needed to look into past U.S. Internal Revenue Service treatment of conservative groups and the agency's loss of related emails.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the Justice Department's second-in-command after Attorney General Eric Holder, told lawmakers the IRS was being thoroughly and fairly investigated.

No decisions have been made on whether criminal activity had taken place at the IRS, he said in testimony before a House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee.

"The whole range of options are still open," said Cole, refusing to be drawn on details of the ongoing probe.

The IRS's worst crisis in years erupted in May 2013 when a senior staffer publicly apologized for what she termed "inappropriate" extra scrutiny by the agency of applications for tax-exempt status from conservative political groups.

Republicans were furious, accusing the IRS of singling out conservatives for unfair treatment. The senior staffer, Lois Lerner, became a lightning rod for criticism but the scandal had largely faded from view by early 2014.

Then last month the IRS said it had lost emails written by and to Lerner from 2009 to 2011 that congressional Republicans had been seeking for their own investigation, which has been under way for more than a year.

In written testimony released on Wednesday, Cole revealed that the Justice Department's inquiry was widening to include the loss of the emails. Lerner has since retired from the IRS.

Cole said the Justice Department did not learn about the email losses, which the IRS has attributed to a failed computer hard-drive, until news reports about them.

He dismissed Republicans lawmakers' calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor, as well as allegations that the probe was compromised because a veteran Justice Department trial attorney working on it, Barbara Bosserman, had donated $6,750 to President Barack Obama's election campaigns over the past 10 years.

Bosserman was not the "lead" investigator and based on federal laws, her donations did not warrant her removal from the case, Cole said.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, who has competed with Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp for control of the Republican probe, challenged Cole about the outcome of Justice's investigation.

"You cannot spend taxpayer dollars if you do not have a belief that it's going to lead to a crime. That would be a frivolous investigation at some point, wouldn't it?" he said.Democrats accused Republicans of hunting for "conspiracy theories" and trying to show that the White House directed the IRS to target conservative groups.

"This is not the basis of a White House scandal. This is the latest example of Republicans desperately searching for one, and then using any excuse they can to manipulate the facts until they no longer have any resemblance to the truth," said Representative Elijah Cummings, the panel's top Democrat.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and James Dalgleish)

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Comments (20)
1WorldDone wrote:
No special prosecutor needed? Why doesn’t the Justice Dept. come right out and say that Obama was at the helm of this one? That’s the only possible explanation for no special prosecutor…

Jul 17, 2014 6:56pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
KaosHiker wrote:
Its like We are suddenly living in the Land of Oz.
Justice Dept.
” Pay No attention to the Man behind the curtain.”
Citizens / Oversight committee.
” but We can see him manipulating the controls.”
Justice Dept.
” What Curtain.”

Jul 17, 2014 7:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
carnivalchaos wrote:
The Republicans just plan on using special prosecutors during every Democratic Presidency. The heart of their political strategy is to focus on undermining Democratic Presidencies in hopes that people will get frustrated and decide to try a Republican. Of course all you have to do is look to the presidency of George W. Bush to see how that works out for America. Bush turned a balanced budget into a recession and stuck us with two wars; Obama got us out of both the recession and the wars.

Jul 19, 2014 4:41pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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