Draft IG report: Managers involved March 2010 forward in IRS focus on conservative groups

posted at 12:01 pm on May 13, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The timeline from the draft Inspector General report on IRS political targeting of conservative groups has been obtained by ABC News, and it tells a more disturbing story than Lois Lerner tried to push in her strange press conference on Friday.  First, as ABC and the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this morning, the effort began more than three years ago, not just in 2012.  The timeline shows that rather than just a few rogue agents violating guidelines, this effort included management almost from the start, emphases mine:

  • Around March 1, 2010 - The Determinations Unit Group Manager asked a specialist to search for other Tea Party or similar organizations’ applications in order to determine the scope of the issue. The specialist continued to complete searches for additional cases until the precursor to the BOLO listing was issued in May 2010.
  • April 1-2, 2010 - The new Acting Manager, Technical Unit, suggested the need for a Sensitive Case Report on the Tea Party cases. The Determinations Unit Program Manager agreed.
  • July 2010 - Determinations Unit management requested its specialists to be on the lookout for Tea Party applications.

Here’s an interesting entry:

  • August 2010 - The responsibility for applications involving potential political campaign intervention was moved to a different team of specialists as part of a group realignment within the Determinations Unit.

And another, just before the midterm elections:

  • October 26, 2010 - Determinations Unit personnel raised concerns to the Technical Unit with the approach being used to develop the Tea Party cases: Why does the Technical Unit need to review every additional information request letter when a template letter could be approved and used on all the cases?

Clearly, this wasn’t just a few rogue agents going off on their own.  As far back as three years ago, two different IRS units were coordinating efforts and raising questions for management to answer.  Managers made decisions about the effort to pursue Tea Party groups as early as April 2010.

Almost two years later, IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told not one but two House committees that nothing of the sort was transpiring.  Chris Moody at Yahoo News reminds us of both:

News reports about how the Internal Revenue Service applied heavier scrutiny on conservative political organizations applying for tax-exempt status have pointed to a March 22, 2012 House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee hearing in which IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman denied any wrongdoing. But that wasn’t the first time lawmakers grilled him about the IRS’ practices.

During a Financial Services subcommittee hearing earlier that month, on March 7, 2012, Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Graves questioned Shulman about similar concerns. Shulman pushed back against allegations that the IRS was targeting groups that advocated for limited government, just as he did at the subsequent Ways and Means subcommittee hearing.

At the March 7 hearing, Graves pointed to concerns from tea party groups that the IRS had unfairly scrutinized them with burdensome questions because of their political ideology. Shulman, who was appointed to the post by President George W. Bush and whose five-year term as IRS commissioner ended in Nov. 2012, told Graves that the agency had followed standard protocol and said allegations that specific groups were being targeted were “off.”

“Can you help put any of those concerns to rest today that these groups are specifically being targeted because of their political activities or their opposition to the administration’s policies?” Graves asked, according a transcript of the exchange.

“It is a good question. I am glad you asked it because I think there has been lots of information flying around in the press, and I think it is important that people put it in perspective,” Shulman said, and went on to explain the agency’s process for examining applications non-profit status. “When we decide to do an examination, we pride ourselves on being a non-political, non-partisan agency. We are given these complex rules that have things like political activity written into the tax code that does not allow you to do certain things or else you jeopardize your tax exemption. We have set up very clear safeguards, for determinate exams.

“This notion that we are targeting anyone, I think, is off,” Shulman added, “because these people are going through an application process that they voluntarily decided to do. It is not required under the law.”

Bear in mind, again, that the IRS chief counsel had participated in at least one meeting in August 2011 where the targeting was discussed.  It strains credulity to believe that the IRS’ top lawyer would not have notified the commissioner of this activity, unless the chief counsel knew the commissioner was already aware of it.  The structured manner in which the IRS approached this effort, as shown in the IG timeline, makes minced meat of the spin Lerner attempted on Friday that no one knew what was going on until just recently and that it had only started last year.

Max Baucus pledged today that his Senate Finance Committee will hold hearings soon on the IRS’ activities:

Sen. Max Baucus says the Senate Finance Committee will investigate the IRS targeting conservative political groups, joining a growing list of congressional panels looking into the matter.

The Finance Committee would be the first in the Democratic-controlled Senate to announce an investigation. The Montana Democrat is the panel’s chairman. …

“These actions by the IRS are an outrageous abuse of power and a breach of the public’s trust,” Baucus said. “Targeting groups based on their political views is not only inappropriate but it is intolerable.”

Baucus said the agency should conduct its job “without passion or prejudice.”

“We need to get to the bottom of what happened here,” Baucus said. “I want to see all the facts. We need to know who knew what, and exactly what mistakes were made.”

That assumes “mistakes” were made at all.  This looks like a very deliberate and systematic effort to target the Obama administration’s critics for IRS abuse.  The question isn’t whether “mistakes” were made — it’s why the top official in the IRS misled Congress, and in whose service that was done.

Update: A little dot-connecting on Twitter:

Yes … convenient.


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