IRS supporters 0-for-3 on putting scandal to rest

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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Since it was revealed in May that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) improperly targeted the tax-exempt nonprofit status of conservative groups between 2010 and 2012, defenders of the beleaguered agency have offered three broad attempts to suppress the growing IRS scandal and put the matter to rest. However, each of these three attempts failed outright, and the scandal continues, with tenacious investigations underway by the House Oversight Committee and House Ways and Means Committee.

The Daily Caller presents a look at the three attempts by IRS supporters to put out the fire — and how each attempt only fanned the flames.

1. The wrongdoing was committed by two “rogue” IRS agents in Cincinnati

IRS and Obama administration claims that the improper targeting was carried out by two rogue agents in the IRS’ Cincinnati office have been completely debunked.

“So our line people in Cincinnati who handled the applications did what we call centralization of these cases. They centralized work on these in one particular group…They didn’t do this because of any political bias,” embattled IRS official Lois Lerner said May 10.

A May 19 New York Times piece entitled “Confusion and Staff Troubles Rife at I.R.S. Office in Ohio” pushed forward Lerner’s narrative.  The Times even reported that the rogue Cincinnati agents were “Low-level employees in what many in the I.R.S. consider a backwater.”

But as The Daily Caller reported, at least five different IRS offices nationwide targeted conservatives, including IRS offices in Cincinnati, Washington, D.C.; Chicago, Illinois; Laguna Niguel, California; and El Monte, California. Additionally, twelve different working groups within the IRS targeted conservatives.

“It’s impossible,” a Cincinnati-based IRS employee responded to an investigator’s question about allegations that the targeting of conservative groups was due to two “rogue” agents. “As an agent we are controlled by many, many people.  We have to submit many, many reports.  So the chance of two agents being rogue and doing things like that could never happen.”

“Well, it’s hard to answer the question because in my mind I still hear people saying we were low‑level employees, so we were lower than dirt, according to people in D.C.  So, take it for what it is,” another Cincinnati IRS employee told congressional investigators, in reference to comments made by officials of the agency’s Washington, D.C. office. “They were basically throwing us underneath the bus.”

Washington-based IRS lawyer Carter C. Hull oversaw the Cincinnati IRS office’s targeting of tea party groups, even sending the Cincinnati office a letter he wrote to the Albuquerque Tea Party as a model for demanding additional information from tea party groups during audits.

“I was essentially a front person, because I had no autonomy or no authority to act on [applications] without Carter Hull’s influence or input,” Elizabeth Hofacre, an employee of the Cincinnati IRS office, told congressional investigators.

2. A “conservative Republican” started the targeting

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on Darrell Issa’s House Oversight Committee, claimed last month that a lone “conservative Republican” manager named John Shafer, working in the IRS’ Cincinnati office, was responsible for the targeting.

“Committee staff conducted a key interview last week with the IRS manager who supervised the team of screeners that evaluates applications for tax exempt status in Cincinnati, and this official stated that he is a ‘conservative Republican’ with 21 years of experience at the IRS,” Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, claimed in a divisive letter to Republican Oversight chairman Darrell Issa in June.

“Based upon everything I’ve seen, the case is solved. And if it were me, I would wrap this case up and move on, to be frank with you,” Cummings then said on CNN.

But Cummings’ claim was “ridiculous,” according to Jay Sekulow, who represents more than forty conservative groups that were targeted by the IRS in a class-action lawsuit brought by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), and ACLJ senior counsel David French.

“That’s ridiculous. [Cummings’ claim] is nonsense. We know that Lois Lerner was sending letters to tea party groups from Washington. We know that at least four different offices were involved, according to our documentation. Other IRS employees are saying that Washington was involved,” Sekulow told The Daily Caller.

“[John] Shafer was just one individual describing his experience interacting with one group [within the IRS]. If he was only interacting with one group then his involvement in this process was minimal,” French said.

3. Progressive groups were targeted, too

Reports that progressive groups were also targeted by the IRS have gained a tremendous amount of ink and television airplay, despite statements by Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George and a top congressional investigator that this third and most recent attempt to bury the scandal is bogus.

The term “progressive” appeared on a heavily redacted November 2010 ”Be On the Lookout” (BOLO) list released in late June by House Ways and Means Democrats. The term was used to help the IRS identify political activity that “may not be appropriate” among 501(c)(3) charities eligible for tax-deductible contributions.

The New York Times reported the news with broad editorializing.

“Taken together, the documents seem to change the terms of a scandal that exploded over accusations that the I.R.S. had tried to stifle a nascent conservative political movement. Instead, the dispute now revolves around questionable sorting tactics used by I.R.S. application screeners,” the Times reported.

Republican House Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp quickly shot back. While Camp’s Ways and Means staff noted that progressive groups were also featured on an IRS’ BOLO list, alongside tea party groups, it pointed out that only tea party groups had their donors threatened, had confidential information leaked, were sent “inappropriate and intrusive” questions, and had their applications delayed for more than two years, according to currently available evidence.

Camp’s staff also noted that only tea party groups were mentioned as having been targeted in a Treasury Inspector General’s report on the IRS scandal. Nearly 100 conservative or tea party applications were given extra scrutiny, according to the IG report.

Ways and Means Democrats did not call any progressive victims of IRS targeting at the committee’s hearing on IRS victims, despite having had the opportunity to do so.

George definitively put the matter to rest with a June 26 letter to Rep. Sandy Levin disputing the idea that the IRS targeted progressives in the manner that the agency targeted conservatives.

“While we have multiple sources of information corroborating the use of Tea Party and other related criteria we described in our report, including employee interviews, emails and other documents, we found no indication in any of these other materials that ‘progressives’ was a term used to refer cases for scrutiny for political campaign intervention,” George wrote.

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Patrick Howley