The idea that this targeting practice was isolated in some off-shoot Ohio office was preposterous from the beginning. Even if no other office were involved, Cincinnati is the central office for clearing tax-exempt applications and has been since the late ’90s. Its location in Cincinnati just gave apologists a convenient way to imply it was not involved in carrying out a national policy.
Since the early days of this scandal, we’ve learned, even if it was buried in the Style section of the Washington Post, there was a “directive.”
From the outset, Internal Revenue Service lawyers based in Washington, D.C., provided important guidance on the handling of tea-party groups’ applications for tax-exempt status, according to both IRS sources and the inspector general’s report released in mid May.
Officials in the Technical Unit of the IRS’s Rulings and Agreements office played an integral role in determining how the targeted applications were treated, provided general guidelines to Cincinnati case workers, briefed other agency employees on the status of the special cases, and reviewed all those intrusive requests demanding “more information” from tea-party groups. At times, the Technical Unit lawyers seemed to exercise tight control over these applications, creating both a backlog in application processing and frustration among Cincinnati agents waiting for direction.
An IRS employee who asked not to be identified tells National Review Online that all members of the agency’s Technical Unit are based in Washington, D.C. A current list of Technical Unit managers provided by another IRS employee shows that all such managers are based at the agency’s headquarters on Constitution Avenue in the District of Columbia, and the IRS confirmed, in a testy exchange with National Review Online, that the Technical Unit is “based in Washington.”
An example of such routine elevation of a case to Washington was in the IG report, despite the IG’s testimony that the practice took place with “little or no supervisory review.”
On May 17, 2010, according to the IG report, Determinations Unit specialists in Cincinnati handling tea-party applications were instructed to “send additional information request letters to the Technical Unit for review prior to issuance.” Ten days later, the Technical Unit “began reviewing additional information request letters prepared by the Determinations Unit.”
The IG report indicates this became a source of frustration, and specialists in Cincinnati pressed for a streamlined approach. “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?” they asked via e-mail. The Washington unit rejected this approach and, in February 2011, was developing individualized letters itself. According to the IG report, an update from the Technical Unit acting manager to the Determinations Unit manager indicated, “Letters were being developed and would be reviewed shortly.”
We still don’t know the details of how the special scrutiny of conservative groups began in 2010, who approved it, or who first learned about it higher up at the IRS and the Treasury Department. The White House says that it knew nothing about the matter until the counsel received a heads up about the pending IG report.
And yet tea party and other conservative groups had been complaining about the IRS scrutiny since 2010, and IRS officials had publicly reassured members of Congress that there was nothing unusual or unwarranted going on.
With two winning presidential campaigns built on successful grassroots fundraising, with a former White House counsel (in 2010-11) who is one of the Democrats’ leading experts on campaign law (Bob Bauer), with former top campaign officials having been ensconced as staffers in the White House (David Axelrod, who left for the reelection campaign in early 2011, and Dan Pfeiffer among others), it’s hard to imagine that the Obama inner circle was oblivious to the issue of what the IRS was doing in Cincinnati.
That may well be true. Maybe they didn’t care one whit what the IG was going to say. But they sure haven’t been behaving that way in the last week.
Hey, at least now we know the federal government is intent on harassing law-abiding entities equally in one sense— from the most modest Kitchen Table Patriots to the riches of Apple. What were the flags for Apple? “Profit-seeking” and “success?” Did you notice how very loquacious Jay Carney was today during the White House press briefing about Apple’s tax situation despite his previous professions that the IRS is an “independent agency.” I wonder why it’s not “improper” for the White House to comment on an ongoing inquiry in this case, hm?
And, Lois Lerner would appreciate it if we didn’t “embarrass or burden” her, y’all.