Top IRS Official Didn’t Reveal Tea Party Targeting

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When members of Congress repeatedly raised concerns with the IRS about complaints that tea party groups were being harassed last year, a deputy IRS commissioner took the lead in assuring lawmakers that the additional scrutiny was a legitimate part of the screening process.

That deputy commissioner was Miller, who is now the acting head of the agency.

Camp and other members of the Ways and Means Committee sent at least four inquiries to the IRS, starting in June 2011. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, sent three inquiries. And Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House oversight committee, sent at least one.

None of the responses they received from the IRS acknowledged that conservative groups had ever been targeted, including a response to Hatch dated Sept. 11, 2012 — four months after Miller had been briefed.

In several letters to members of Congress, Miller went into painstaking detail about how applications for tax-exempt status were screened. But he never mentioned that conservative groups were being targeted, even though people working under him knew as early as June 2011 that tea party groups were being targeted, according to an upcoming report by the agency’s inspector general.

The IRS issued a statement Monday saying that Miller had been briefed on May 3, 2012 “that some specific applications were improperly identified by name and sent to the (exempt organizations) centralized processing unit for further review.” That was the unit in Cincinnati that handled the tea party applications.

Miller became acting commissioner in November, after Commissioner Douglas Shulman completed his five-year term. Shulman had been appointed by President George W. Bush.

On June 29, 2011, Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, learned at a meeting that groups were being targeted, according to a draft of the report by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

At the meeting, Lerner was told that groups with “Tea Party,” ”Patriot” or “9/12 Project” in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny, the report says. Lerner instructed agents to change the criteria for flagging groups “immediately.”

However, when Lerner responded to inquiries from the House oversight committee, she didn’t mention the fact that tea party groups had ever been targeted. Her responses included 45-page letters in May 2012 to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who chairs the committee, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who chairs a subcommittee.

Lerner also met twice with staff from the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee to discuss the issue, in March and in May 2012, according to a timeline constructed by committee staff. She didn’t mention at either meeting that conservative groups had been targeted, according to the timeline.

On Monday, President Barack Obama said he first learned about the issue from news reports on Friday. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the White House counsel’s office was alerted the week of April 22 that the inspector general was finishing a report concerning the IRS office in Cincinnati. But, he said, the counsel’s office did not get the report and the president did not learn the focus until Friday.

“If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it,” Obama said Monday at a press conference.

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