Cause of Action Testifies Before Congress On Questionable White House Detail Program

WASHINGTON – Cause of Action Executive Director Dan Epstein testified before Congress today about CoA’s recent investigation into whether the White House may have illegally accessed confidential taxpayer information.

During a hearing held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law, Epstein discussed Cause of Action’s finding that attorneys in the Justice Department’s Tax Division are being detailed to the White House to review the background files of potential presidential nominees.

As Epstein stated, the program raises ethical and legal questions because of these attorneys’ access to confidential taxpayer returns and return information.

“Cause of Action is concerned that this program may be a manner by which the President can be armed with information that may benefit him politically,” Epstein said.

Through a handful of Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests, Cause of Action found that the detailing of Tax Division attorneys to the White House has been unique to the current Administration. Since 2009, these attorneys, many involved in controversial matters involving confidential tax records, have served the President as “clearance counsel” – that is, vetting the President’s nominees by examining their tax records.

During its examination of these White House details, CoA found no evidence of policies, procedures, rules and/or guidelines that exist to ensure that detailed attorneys are appropriately screened to prevent confidential taxpayer returns and/or return information from being unlawfully accessed or disclosed. This means Americans’ most private information may be inappropriately disclosed to the White House.

Epstein noted two DOJ Tax Division attorneys in particular, Andrew Strelka and Norah Bringer. Prior to being assigned to White House detail, both served as trial attorneys involved in litigation concerning the IRS’s targeting of political groups.

It is known that Ms. Bringer accessed confidential taxpayer return information, and it is reasonable to assume that Mr. Strelka did the same.

“The American people deserve answers as to whether their most private information may have been shared with the White House for political gain,” Epstein told the committee.

In light of this concern, Cause of Action requested on April 15, 2015 that the DOJ Inspector General investigate the Tax Division’s practice of detailing attorneys to the White House. To date, the Inspector General has not responded to our request.