At today’s ongoing hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Sarah Hall Ingram, the top Obamacare official at the Internal Revenue Service, was unable to recall details about her own e-mail correspondence with White House officials regarding legally protected confidential taxpayer information. According to Issa, “the information was apparently disclosed during her efforts to counsel senior White House officials in response to lawsuits from religious-affiliated institutions objecting to the contraception mandate in Obamacare.”
Via The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:
Chairman Issa: Do you recall this document?
Ms. Hall Ingram: I do not recall the document. I think I recall what it was a discussion about.
Chairman Issa: Well one of the areas of interest is there’s a significant redaction that quotes the statute 6103. Do you know who is underneath that blackout?
Ms. Hall Ingram: I don’t recall the document so I can’t help you with what’s underneath the redaction.
The e-mail exchanges with White House officials, which can be found here and here, include several redactions the IRS indicates were made to protect confidential taxpayer information pursuant to section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, which prohibits any federal officer or employee from, “disclos[ing] any return or return information obtained by him in any manner in connection with his service as such an officer or an employee.” Any unlawful disclosure of confidential taxpayer information could result in five years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
The e-mail exchange between White House and IRS officials was produced in redacted form by the IRS, which cited confidential 6103 protected information as the justification for redaction. The IRS, which presents itself as apolitical, is specifically prohibited from “willful misuse of the provisions of section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 for the purpose of concealing information from a congressional inquiry” (26 U.S.C. 7804 note). Noting the abuse of the 6103 provision by the IRS, Chairman Issa has requested the unredacted e-mails from the IRS.
- Over fifty religious-affiliated organizations – including non-profit schools, hospitals and charities – have sued the Administration provisions of Obamacare they allege violate their religious freedom.
- One such religious-affiliated school, Wheaton College in Illinois, filed suit against the Administration on July 18, 2012. The very same date that Wheaton College sued the Administration for infringing on its religious liberty, Hall Ingram and several subordinates engaged in an e-mail exchange with senior White House officials about the scope and contours of the Administration’s religious exemption to the contraception mandate.
- On July 18, 2012, Ellen Montz, a health policy advisor at the White House, e-mailed Hall Ingram and Catherine Livingston, then health care counsel in the IRS Chief Counsel’s office, with questions about whether religious-affiliated schools are “automatically exempt” from filing Form 990, which is the fourth prong of a “four prong test” the Administration’s used to offer exemption from the contraception mandate. Hall Ingram responded the same day with answers to her questions.
- The response referenced a document pertaining to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, an organization that represents the 43 Catholic entities. The Archbishops of Washington and New York filed suit against the Administration on May 21, 2012 – only weeks before her e-mail exchange with the White House.
- Jeanne Lambrew, the Deputy Assistant to the President for Health Policy, e-mailed Hall Ingram the following day with additional questions, writing: “[D]o we feel at this point we can say that we believe that replacing the four-prong test with the fourth prong will not expand the number of workers in health plans that are exempt from contraception coverage? What more needs to be done to make such a determination?”
- The documents indicate that Hall Ingram and her subordinates violated the IRS’s traditional role as an impartial administrator of the tax code by using their expertise and knowledge to advise the White House on a politically controversial subject: the four-prong test for religious exemption to the contraception mandate.
- The substance and the context of this exchange indicate that the White House hoped to include religious-affiliated schools – such as Wheaton College – within the scope of the Form 990 filing exemption in order to moot the lawsuits filed. This e-mail exchange, indicates that Hall Ingram counseled the White House on a strategy for dismissing lawsuits that challenged the Administration’s infringement of religious liberty.
- The Committee does not have access to the redacted information the IRS has withheld on the grounds that it contains legally protected 6103 taxpayer information.
The hearing is being streamed live, here.
Fox News coverage of the hearing: Issa-Jordan Press IRS ObamaCare Head on Law’s Implementation:
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