Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Conyers: GOP Needs to End Partisan Diversions and Get Back to Doing the Business of the American People

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman John Conyers Jr. , Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, made opening remarks at the full House Judiciary Committee legislative hearing on the “IRS Targeting Scandal: The Need for a Special Counsel.” Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“Mr. Chairman, today is the last full working day before the August recess. 

“I am concerned, and deeply disappointed, by how we have chosen to spend it.

“Under federal regulations, and according to all available precedent, the appointment of special counsel is reserved for extraordinary circumstances—where a conflict of interest at the highest levels of government requires the Department of Justice to abandon its normal process of investigation and prosecution.

“Two separate congressional committees have sorted through more than half a million pages of documents, conducted 40 transcribed interviews, and held more than three-dozen hearings and markups to examine the criteria used by the IRS to screen applicants for tax-exempt status.

“The committees have not uncovered one shred of evidence to suggest that the involvement of senior officials at the Department of Justice, the Department of the Treasury, or the White House.

“Without that evidence, calls for a special counsel are simply unwarranted.

“The Chairman has mentioned H. Res. 565, which demands that the Attorney General appoint special counsel in this matter.  Of course, as a matter of law, the Attorney General has absolute discretion to determine whether a special counsel is necessary.  Congress cannot compel him to do so.

“We might have explained this point had we maintained regular order, and discussed H. Res. 565 in this Committee prior to consideration on the House floor.

“What troubles me most about this resolution is its preamble: 8 pages of unsubstantiated claims, carefully tailored half-truths, and political innuendo.

“For example, the resolution references two anonymous sources in a January 13th Wall Street Journal article, who claim that the Department has concluded its investigation.  That claim ignores the testimony of both Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey, who assured this Committee that the investigation is ongoing.

“The resolution claims that the Department of Justice and the FBI “have refused to cooperate with congressional oversight.” 

“Of course, the Chairman knows that—under longstanding policy, applied consistently by Administrations of both parties—Congress is not entitled to materials related to an ongoing criminal investigation.  Otherwise, the Department’s attempt to accommodate our needs have been extraordinary.

“The resolution’s largest error is the same false premise underlying this hearing.  H. Res. 565 claims that the IRS “targeted conservative nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny in connection with applications for tax-exempt status.” 

“That is partly true.  But it is a deliberate half-truth, and one that leads to the wrong conclusion.

“The record is clear: overwhelmed with applications for tax-exempt status after the Citizens United decision, the IRS created a list of search terms in an attempt to sort legitimate applicants from mere political shells. 

“Those search terms applied across the political spectrum—to Tea Party groups, but also to groups with the words “progressive” and “Occupy” in their titles.  We all agree that this approach was poorly conceived, but not a single applicant was denied tax-exempt status because of it.

“The Majority knows that this is a case of bureaucratic ineptitude, and not so-called ‘political targeting.’ They only frame it as such because it is politically expedient to do so.

“This underscores my final point. Given the long list of urgent matters pending before us, this hearing is an unacceptable misuse of our time and resources.

“The 113th Congress has spent more than $18 million taxpayer dollars investigating the IRS.  The House has held more than three dozen hearings and markups on the topic.  We have already voted on the particular question of appointing special counsel.
“But we have held not one hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on comprehensive immigration reform.
“Not one hearing on legislation to update the Voting Rights Act.

“Not one hearing on much-needed reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.           

“Not one hearing on stemming the tide of gun violence in this country, a scourge that has claimed nearly 20,000 lives since this Congress began.

“Not one hearing on a range of local civil rights issues across the map: including police practices in New York, due process rights for minors at the Texas border, prison conditions in California, access to the ballot box in Florida, and access to drinking water and other basic utilities in Michigan.

“Any one of these topics would be appropriate for consideration today, our last full day of work before the break. 

“Instead, we will hold one more hearing—in the line of dozens of hearings—on a so-called “scandal” in which one office in the IRS bureaucracy denied zero applications for tax-exempt status.

“In terms of actually compelling the Attorney General to appoint a special counsel, this hearing stands about as much a chance of success as the Speaker’s woefully misguided lawsuit against the President.

“I hope that, after the break, cooler heads will prevail.  There is still time to correct this Committee’s priorities before the Congress ends. 

“I yield back.”

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