May 14, 2013

Justice Department opens criminal probe into IRS targeting

Attorney General Eric Holder calls the extra scrutiny given tea party groups 'outrageous and unacceptable.'

The Associated Press

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Attorney General Eric Holder has called for investigation into IRS targeting of groups.

The Associated Press

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Of the groups that were not engaged in significant political activities, 17 were tea party, patriot or 9/12 groups, the report said.

The additional screening resulted in long delays as IRS agents asked intrusive, sometimes inappropriate questions, or merely let applications languish, the report said. Inappropriate questions included requests for lists of donors and the political affiliation of officers.

As of December, the delays averaged 574 days, which probably made donors reluctant to contribute, the report said. No group has had their application denied, though about half are still waiting, the IRS said.

"Unfortunately, the report raises more questions than it answers," said House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. "What we do know for sure is that the IRS personnel responsible for granting tax exemptions systematically targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny, and thatofficials in Washington, D.C. were aware of this practice, even while publically claiming that it never happened."

Obama said he is ordering Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to implement all of the inspector general's recommendations to improve oversight at the IRS.

"But regardless of how this conduct was allowed to take place, the bottom line is, it was wrong," Obama said.

The practice of targeting conservative groups ended in May 2012, the report said.

"After seeing issues with particular cases, inappropriate shortcuts were used to determine which cases may be engaging in political activities," the IRS said in a statement Tuesday evening. "It is important to note that the vast majority of these cases would still have been centralized based on the general criteria used for other cases."

"It is also important to understand that the group of centralized cases included organizations of all political views," the statement said.

The IRS has said the improper reviews were limited to a Cincinnati office where a special team was assembled to screen them. The inspector general's report does not contradict the agency on this assertion.

However, documents obtained by The Associated Press suggest the targeting of conservative groups could be more widespread. Documents sent from the IRS to tea party groups show that IRS offices in California and Washington, D.C., also sought extensive information from tea party groups who requested tax-exempt status.

In letters provided by the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents 27 tea party groups that have sought tax exempt status, IRS officials from two cities in California — El Monte and Laguna Nigel — as well as officials in Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati contacted groups seeking extensive information.

The law center's chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, said he was astonished the IRS said activity was limited to Cincinnati.

"To me, that was what was mind-boggling, they tried to create a narrative," he said.

On Monday, the IRS said acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller was first informed on May, 3, 2012, that applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups were inappropriately singled out for extra scrutiny.

At least twice after the briefing, Miller wrote letters to members of Congress to explain the process of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status without disclosing that tea party groups had been targeted. On July 25, 2012, Miller testified before the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee but again did not mention the additional scrutiny — despite being asked about it.

On Tuesday, the IRS said, "While flaws in our process were corrected last year based on our own review, we only recently discussed this publicly as there had been a concurrent ongoing (inspector general) audit of the situation. There was no intent to hide this issue, but rather we waited until (the inspector general) completed their fact finding, made recommendations, and we reviewed their findings.

Miller was a deputy commissioner at the time. He became acting commissioner in November, after Commissioner Douglas Shulman completed his five-year term. Shulman had been appointed by President George W. Bush.

Miller is scheduled to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee at a hearing Friday.

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