WASHINGTON, (UPI) — Internal Revenue Service Tea Party targeting went beyond an Ohio office, and the current and ex-IRS heads knew about the practice a year ago, records indicate.
IRS officials at the agency’s Washington headquarters and at offices in El Monte, Calif., east of Los Angeles and Laguna Niguel in California’s southern Orange County sent queries to conservative groups asking about their donors and other facets of their operations, documents obtained by The Washington Post indicate.
The IRS originally said the alleged anti-conservative usurpation was limited to its Cincinnati branch. The Cincinnati IRS employees told conservatives seeking the non-profit status of “social welfare” groups a Washington task force was overseeing their applications, activists from those groups told the Post.
Lois Lerner, head of the IRS tax-exempt-organizations division, told reporters Friday the “absolutely inappropriate” actions were done by “front-line people” working in Cincinnati to target groups with “Tea Party,” “patriot” or “9/12″ in their names.
Her office had no immediate comment to the Post report.
The Post and The Wall Street Journal also said the current and former IRS heads were informed a year ago about the conservative group targeting.
The IRS said in a statement Monday acting Commissioner Steven Miller learned from agency staff May 3, 2012, when he was deputy commissioner, some groups’ applications for tax-exempt status were improperly selected for extra scrutiny based on their names.
Miller’s predecessor and boss at the time, Commissioner Douglas Shulman, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2008, was also informed of the problems in May 2012, aides told the newspapers.
But neither official shared what they learned with Republican lawmakers demanding to know if the IRS was targeting conservative groups, Republicans told the newspapers.
“I wrote to the IRS three times last year after hearing concerns that conservative groups were being targeted,” Senate Finance Committee member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement Monday.
“In response to the first letter I sent with some of my colleagues, Steven Miller, the current acting IRS commissioner, responded that these groups weren’t being targeted,” Hatch said.
“Knowing what we know now, the IRS was at best being far from forth coming, or at worst, being deliberately dishonest with Congress,” he added.
Neither Miller, who became IRS commissioner Nov. 10, nor Shulman, who resigned Nov. 9, could immediately be reached for comment.
President Barack Obama, in his first public comments on the controversy, echoed lawmakers’ anger.
“If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it,” Obama told reporters at a White House news briefing with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Obama, who said he first learned about the alleged abuses Friday, added he would reserve judgment until after an audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration is released this week.
“But I’ve got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it. And we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this,” he said.
TIGTA’s job is to audit, investigate and inspect the IRS to promote the fair administration of the federal tax system, its website says.
It is part of the Treasury but independent of the department and all Treasury offices, it says on its website.
Among the areas TIGTA investigates are alleged fraud and abuse in IRS programs and operations, the website states.
On Capitol Hill, two Senate panels — the Finance Committee and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations — said Monday they would investigate.
“These actions by the IRS are an outrageous abuse of power and a breach of the public’s trust,” said Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. “The IRS will now be the ones put under additional scrutiny.”