House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith on Saturday said that previous communications by the agency to employees may have had a “chilling effect” on whistleblowers, as they did not tell them that their rights included sharing concerns directly to Congress.
“The importance of informing whistleblowers about their rights under the law is vital. The Ways and Means Committee has been conducting rigorous oversight of the extremely troubling allegations of retaliation against the IRS whistleblowers who made disclosures to the Committee, which includes inquiries about communications to IRS employees that neglected to tell employees about their rights to make such disclosures,” said Mr. Smith, Missouri Republican in a statement.
“The IRS must be clear with its employees that they have a constitutional and statutory right to make protected disclosures to Congress. Period. Full stop. Any guidance that does not communicate their ability to do so are chilling and make whistleblowers afraid that they will face consequences for making a disclosure to Congress. Such actions by agency officials are unacceptable.”
Mr. Smith said he set up a hotline for whistleblowers as one of his first acts as chair of the Committee and since then, they have received information from IRS employees alleging misconduct and claims of retaliation.
“I am glad that Commissioner Werfel finally issued a memo with updated guidance, recognizing Congress’s proper role in holding agencies accountable and protecting whistleblowers,” he said.
A group of GOP House and Senate lawmakers last week sent a letter to special counsel Henry Kerner to discipline IRS and Justice Department officials who may have retaliated against two whistleblowers who told Congress that President Biden’s son Hunter Biden received preferential treatment in a tax fraud probe.
Mr. Kerner, who is in the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the lawmakers said the whistleblowers and their investigative team were kicked off the Hunter Biden tax fraud probe and denied career advancement “in apparent retaliation for their legally protected communication with Congress.”
Lawmakers said that the Justice Department and IRS also failed to inform the whistleblowers about their right to make the bombshell disclosures.
They want Mr. Kerner to investigate the allegations of retaliation and “immediate seek appropriate disciplinary action,” against anyone who took part in it. The lawmakers have asked for a briefing from Mr. Kerner by July 19.
The letter was signed by House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, Kentucky Republican; Mr. Smith; Senate Budget Committee ranking member Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and Investigations Permanent Subcommittee ranking member Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican.
Critics say Hunter Biden received a “sweetheart” plea deal on two misdemeanor charges following a five-year investigation into tax fraud.
Under the terms of the agreement, Hunter Biden will appear in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware, on July 26, to enter his plea deal with prosecutors to two misdemeanor tax charges and admitting to felony gun possession. Prosecutors will recommend probation and no jail time and the president’s son will not face a federal charge for falsifying a firearm background check.
Whistleblower Gary Shapley and another anonymous IRS investigator told Congress that the Justice Department worked to protect Hunter Biden, blocking search warrants and preventing them from thoroughly investigating the charges.
After reporting their claims to Congress, the two IRS officials were removed from investigating the president’s son at the Justice Department’s request, and Mr. Shapley said he was blocked from a job promotion.
U.S. Attorney David Weiss, a Trump appointee who has been investigating Hunter Biden, denied taking retaliatory action.
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