By Bernie Becker
Republicans went on the attack on Monday after a House Democrat suggested it's time to close the books on the congressional investigations into the IRS.
GOP lawmakers rejected Rep. Elijah Cummings's (D-Md.) remark that the targeting of conservative groups has been "solved," and vowed that they've only begun to probe the agency's actions.
"The American people know instinctively that there is a serious problem at the Internal Revenue Service and that this is the moment to resolve the issue -- not sweep it under the rug," said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) in one of five statements released by Oversight Committee Republicans.
Cummings, the Oversight panel's ranking Democrat, criticized the GOP probes into the IRS on Sunday, saying it's time to "wrap this case up and move on."
The campaign arm for House Republicans pounced on Cummings's remarks, linking them to vulnerable Democrats, while the Republican National Committee joined in the act by citing unanswered questions in a new Web video.
The top GOP lawmakers on the House Oversight panel said they planned to get to the bottom of a string of those unanswered questions -- including who knew about the targeting, why it was approved, and why it wasn't stopped -- and noted that the White House was still calling for a thorough investigation last week.
"No one, from either party, should try to rush to judgment, declare the case "solved' nor have the audacity to say the American people should "move on,'" added Lankford, also a member of the House GOP leadership.
The crossfire comes as much of Washington has shifted its focus to the recent release of details about classified National Security Agency programs, especially after the contractor who disclosed the information unmasked himself from Hong Kong.
Committees investigating the IRS have yet to schedule a hearing on the targeting this week, with the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee returning to its long-standing priority of tax reform.
But the Republican response to Cummings suggests that top officials in the party have no intention of letting the IRS investigation lapse.
Both House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) have said they're interested in interviewing more IRS staffers, after investigators already sat down with five agency employees.
Cummings and other Democrats say Issa is selectively releasing information from the investigation. Camp, meanwhile, said last week that more interviews would be conducted in private.
Cummings unveiled his own partial transcripts over the weekend that showed a two-decade veteran of the IRS, and self-described conservative Republican, saying there was no political motivation behind the targeting or any White House involvement.
The Democrat said that he woulpd release the full transcripts of the committees' interviews with IRS staffers by the end of the week if Issa does not.
"I am all in favor of a responsible investigation designed to get the facts, but do I think we should continue an irresponsible Republican fishing expedition to try to find support for their completely unsubstantiated allegations that the White House ordered all of this from on high?" Cummings said in a statement provided to The Hill. "Absolutely not."
Cummings's statement also underscored that many Democrats feel that the GOP is trying to use the IRS controversy to tar the White House.
A Democratic aide on the Oversight panel, for instance, suggested that the committee's Republicans went back to the "accuse, then prove" tactic on Monday, asking for what President Obama and Vice President Biden's campaign knew about the targeting.
"I'm sure House Republicans won't let the facts stand in the way of their continuing efforts to politicize this issue," Cummings said.
GOP officials say they can't speed up their investigation much more, even as they deal with long-running congressional inquiries into other matters, including the administration's handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
A month after the IRS first disclosed and apologized for its actions, congressional panels have held at least six hearings about the agency's targeting and its $4.1 million conference in California in 2010.
But Republicans say their investigation has been hampered by the IRS's response. They say more revelations are likely to come from the private interviews they are conducting.
Tidbits that have leaked out from the interviews with five IRS employees paint an, at times, conflicting and hazy picture of where and how the targeting of conservative groups started, with little clarity about who authorized it.
"Certainly, the investigation is going to continue," Camp said after a hearing last week. "We're really just beginning."
Republicans also seem to see a political benefit in keeping the IRS controversy front-and-center.
The National Republican Congressional Committee on Monday sent releases to the districts of more than three dozen House Democrats, calling on the incumbents to "condemn those in his party who'd prefer to look the other way."