The ‘other’ whistleblower complaint largely ignored by the media

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With two court cases for Donald Trump’s financial records and tax returns headed to the U.S. Supreme Court — the congressional case of Trump v. Mazars, 19A545, and the New York case of Trump v. Vance, 19-635 — and a third related case which hasn’t yet reached the Court but may arrive soon, Trump v. House Committee on Financial Services, the relevance and immediate congressional need for these financial records is made clear by the “other” whistleblower complaint largely ignored by the media.

Back in October, the Washington Post reported IRS whistleblower said to report Treasury political appointee might have tried to interfere in audit of Trump or Pence:

An Internal Revenue Service ­official has filed a whistleblower complaint reporting that he was told that at least one Treasury Department political appointee attempted to improperly interfere with the annual audit of the president’s or vice president’s tax returns, according to multiple people familiar with the document.

[C]ongressional Democrats were alarmed by the complaint, now circulating on Capitol Hill, and flagged it in a federal court filing. They are also discussing whether to make it public.

The IRS complaint has come amid the escalating legal battle between the Treasury Department and House Democrats over the release of President Trump’s tax returns. Part of that inquiry from Democrats is over how the IRS conducts its annual audit of the president’s and vice president’s tax returns. That process is supposed to be walled off from political appointees and interference.

That was the focus of the whistleblower complaint, whose existence was revealed in a court filing several months ago, though little about it had become public. The people briefed on its contents said, for the first time, that the complaint pertained to allegations of interference in the audit process by at least one Treasury Department official. They also said, for the first time, that the complaint revealed that the whistleblower is a career IRS official.

The whistleblower’s account focuses on the integrity of the government’s system for auditing the president’s and vice president’s tax returns.

The IRS complaint has received less attention than the intelligence community complaint but has divided government officials.

Two administration officials have described the IRS complaint as hearsay and suggested it was politically motivated, but they spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Democrats who have reviewed it regard it as a deeply significant allegation that, if true, suggests that political appointees may have tried to interfere with the government audit process, which was set up to be insulated from political pressures.

Key parts of the complaint remain under wraps in part because of strict privacy laws that prevent the disclosure of any details related to the filing of tax returns.

Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who received the whistleblower’s complaint in July, said in court filings this summer that the complaint contains credible evidence of “potential ‘inappropriate efforts to influence’ the mandatory audit program.” Neal has also said the complaint raises “serious and urgent concerns.”

The whistleblower, a career official at the IRS, confirmed in an interview with The Washington Post this week that he had filed a formal complaint and sent it to the tax committee chairs in both houses of Congress, including Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), and to the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration on July 29.

The whistleblower would not comment on the substance of the complaint itself but focused on the importance of protecting those who come forward to disclose problems in government.

* * *

Neal has not revealed whether the whistleblower complaint is about Trump or Pence, but he said in an August court filing that the allegations “cast doubt” on the Trump administration’s contention that there is no reason for concern that IRS employees could face interference when auditing a president’s tax returns.

It is very unusual for political appointees at Treasury to ask IRS career staff about the status of an individual’s audit, according to legal experts and former IRS officials.

“Nobody at the Treasury Department should be calling to find out the status of anybody’s audit,” said John Koskinen, who served as IRS commissioner under both Trump and President Barack Obama. “For a Treasury official to call a career person — even just for information — seems to me highly inappropriate, even if it’s just checking in on how it’s going.”

The Post has been unable to verify the allegation in the whistleblower’s complaint of improper communication between Treasury and IRS on the tax audit program.

The whistleblower said that Treasury investigators, and presumably the inspector general, were aware of his complaint. “I brought my concerns to my supervisors, who advised me to report the matter to the appropriate people with investigatory authority,” he told The Post.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin previously told Neal he forwarded the complaint to the inspector general’s office.

The Treasury Department’s acting inspector general has opened a review into whether the Trump administration acted improperly during its ongoing fight with House Democrats over releasing President Trump’s tax returns. Treasury inspector general to review handling of Trump’s tax returns:

Chairman Neal sent a letter to Richard Delmar, Treasury’s acting inspector general, and asked for a review.

“I want to be assured that Treasury, including the [IRS], is enforcing the law in a fair and impartial manner and no one is endeavoring to intimidate or impede government officials and employees carrying out their duties,” Neal wrote in the letter.

Asked whether the inquiry encompassed the whistleblower complaint, Delmar in a brief interview referred instead to Neal’s letter and said it would focus on matters the lawmaker raised.

“Chairman Neal has asked Treasury OIG to inquire into the process by which the Department received, evaluated, and responded to the Committee’s request for federal tax information,” Delmar said in a statement. “We are undertaking that inquiry.”

The Treasury Department has two inspectors general. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, a separate office, has declined to comment on whether it has opened an inquiry into the whistleblower’s complaint.

The Hill reported:

During a hearing held by a House Appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) asked if TIGTA is investigating any allegations of possible misconduct in the IRS mandatory audit program. The tax administration inspector general, J. Russell George, said TIGTA isn’t conducting any investigation. But deputy inspector general James Jackson acknowledged media reports of a whistleblower, adding “we can’t confirm or deny that we may or may not be doing anything.”

In November, the Washington Post reported IRS whistleblower case advances as Senate staff looks at whether political appointee meddled with audit of Trump or Pence:

Staff members for Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (Ore.), the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, met with the IRS whistleblower earlier this month, those people said. Follow-up interviews are expected to further explore the whistleblower’s allegations.

The Post’s Catherine Rampell reported that Grassley received the complaint in July but did not share it with Wyden, who only requested access to the complaint after reading in the press that Grassley had it.

The whistleblower, a career IRS official, initially filed a complaint in July, reporting that he was told that at least one Treasury political appointee attempted to improperly interfere with the annual audit of the president’s or vice president’s tax returns. In recent weeks, the whistleblower filed additional documentation related to the original complaint, which was given to congressional officials in July, the two people said. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the complaint, which pertains to a confidential IRS audit that cannot be disclosed under federal law.

The contents of the additional information provided by the whistleblower were not known.

* * *

The Treasury inspector general has opened a review of the Treasury Department’s handling of House Democrats’ request for Trump’s tax returns. Asked whether that review would look at the IRS whistleblower’s complaint, Rich Delmar, the acting inspector general, said in an email that “the inquiry is ongoing, and will take into account that aspects of the underlying matter are the subject of litigation.” The whistleblower also previously told The Washington Post that he had sent his complaint to Grassley, Neal and the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration, a separate watchdog at Treasury.

Spokespeople for Grassley and Wyden declined to confirm their meeting with the whistleblower, citing strict federal privacy laws related to taxpayer information. The White House, the Treasury Department and the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration also declined to comment.

* * *

Wyden, who was kept in the dark on the complaint, demanded a Senate investigation of the whistleblower’s complaint in early October, writing on Twitter, “A bipartisan committee effort to get to the bottom of this should have been started months ago.”

* * *

[L]ittle information about the whistleblower’s complaints have been made public, in part because of federal law limiting disclosure of information regarding confidential IRS audits. Even those who have spoken with the whistleblower have revealed very little.

“I am aware of public reports of a whistleblower complaint related to the mandatory audit program of the president and vice president,” Wyden said in a statement. “Because any discussion of this matter may implicate section 6103 privacy requirements or whistleblower protections, I cannot comment further on the matter.”

To review: the whistleblower complaint was filed in July. The inspector general reportedly did not open an investigation until months later, in October. Staff members for Sens. Charles Grassley and Ron Wyden, the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, met with the IRS whistleblower earlier this month, and were to follow up.

How long does it take to confirm or deny what appears to be a short, simple whistleblower complaint based upon something the whistleblower was told by someone else? It would appear there is only a small universe of persons to interview.

The inspector general should have a report ready for the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court considering Trump’s petitions for certiorari in December, so that the Congress can properly inform the court of the status of previously plead information about this whistleblower complaint.

What’s the holdup?




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