IRS employee: Washington showed "unprecedented interest" in Tea Party groups

Elizabeth Hofacre has turned out to be a gold mine to investigators of political corruption at the IRS.  The Cincinnati-office specialist didn’t take kindly to having the entire mess dumped on the shoulders of her colleagues and herself, and has made it plain in depositions that this was no low-level innovation.  The Hill became the latest media outlet to peruse the transcripts, and added a little more to the growing  public record of the targeting effort’s genesis in Washington rather than Cincinnati:

An IRS staffer in Cincinnati told congressional investigators that a Washington official was the driving force behind the targeting of Tea Party organizations in 2010, and showed unprecedented interest in those groups’ tax-exempt applications.

Elizabeth Hofacre, the Cincinnati staffer, said that she started receiving applications from Tea Party groups to sift through in April, 2010. Hofacre’s handling of those cases, she said, was highly influenced by Carter Hull, an IRS lawyer in Washington.

As it turns out, the scapegoating wasn’t the only thing that angered Hofacre.  Normally, the IRS doesn’t interfere with rank-and-file agents when they choose targets for their investigation and make decisions on applications.  When it came to Tea Party and other conservative groups, Hofacre suddenly found that her autonomy had been stripped, which she found “demeaning”:

Hofacre said that she integrated questions from Hull into her follow-ups with Tea Party groups, and that Hull had to approve the letters seeking more information that she sent out to those organizations. That process, she said, was both unusual and “demeaning.”

“One of the criteria is to work independently and do research and make decisions based on your experience and education,” Hofacre said, according to transcripts reviewed by The Hill. “Whereas in this case, I had no autonomy at all through the process.”

“I thought it was over the top,” she added, in interviews held by investigators in both parties from the House Oversight and Ways and Means committees. “I am not sure where it came from, but it was a bit unusual.”

In the end, even Hofacre ended up getting stalled and stonewalled by Hull, she claims.  Hofacre got so tired of dealing with angry applicants who couldn’t fathom why the IRS kept stalling that she took another position.  Hofacre also told investigators that requests for donor lists were “appalling,” but those requests came after she had already left.

The “low-level employee” defense is crumbling in both fact and perception. Gallup’s latest survey shows that 59% of all adults believe that high-ranking IRS officials knew full well about the targeting of conservatives, and even a plurality of Democrats do too:

Nearly six in 10 Americans believe that high-ranking IRS officials in Washington were aware the IRS had a practice of targeting conservative political groups for greater scrutiny in recent years. One-quarter think knowledge of this was mainly limited to the agency’s office in Cincinnati where the mishandled applications for tax-exempt status were processed.

Almost as many — 50% — believe that high-ranking Obama administration officials knew about it, too.  That includes 54% of independents.  Barack Obama’s approval rating on handling the issue is just 32/58, and with 77% of Americans believing this to be a serious matter (49% say very serious), that’s a bad position to be in — especially with two NSA scandals being added to the Scandalabra this week.