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Inspector says IRS withheld info on targeting liberals

Jul. 18, 2013 - 03:54PM   |  
By DEIRDRE SHESGREEN and GREGORY KORTE   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON — The inspector general who concluded that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny blamed the tax agency on Thursday for failing to give him documents that showed progressive groups were subjected to similar screenings.

“New documents from July 2010 listing the term ‘progressive’... were provided” to his office last week, J. Russell George said in prepared testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“They were not provided during our audit, even though similar documents that list ‘Tea Party’ but not ‘progressive’ were. I am disturbed that these documents were not provided to our auditors at the outset and we are currently reviewing this issue,” he said.

The committee’s Democrats have said George’s initial review of the targeting was flawed and incomplete.

But in his prepared remarks, George defends his original report and says that IRS officials shaped the frame of his inquiry at the outset by providing his investigators with a “be on the look out” list that included the terms “tea party,” “patriots” and “9/12.”

George said IRS officials told them that list was used by agents to select potential political cases. At no time, he said, did IRS officials provide additional information about progressive groups being screened, nor did they contradict his findings.

“IRS staff at multiple levels concurred with our analysis,” George’s statement says.

Thursday’s hearing was the seventh such session Congress has held to probe the IRS’s handing of tax-exempt applications from political groups. But it was the first opportunity lawmakers had to hear directly from IRS employees involved in the targeting.

In addition to George’s testimony, two Internal Revenue Service employees responsible for handling tax-exempt applications from Tea Party groups testified that those cases were handled in an unusual way with significant involvement from supervisors.

Elizabeth Hofacre, a specialist in the Cincinnati office, said Tea Party groups got caught up in an atypical process in which lawyers in Washington controlled every step of the process.

“I was frustrated because of what I perceived as micromanagement with respect to these applications,” she told the House Oversight Committee on Thursday.

She said she became a “dumping ground” for Tea Party cases that she was never able to close as she awaited guidance from the IRS’ technical unit in Washington.

“It was like working in lost luggage,” she said. “I could never give (applicants) a clear answer.”

The Washington attorney tasked with advising Hofacre on those applications, Carter Hull, said the holdup came from above. “I was awaiting word from chief counsel about how to proceed,” he said. The Chief Counsel’s Office is a unit of 1,600 IRS employees that are the tax agency’s top lawyers.

For Democrats, it’s a scandal that is bottoming out, following the revelations that some progressive groups were also given additional scrutiny.

But for Republicans, the investigation is still working its way up the IRS organizational chart. “Was the targeting of Tea Party applicants directed from the White House or somewhere else outside the IRS? ? As our investigation is ongoing, the responsible answer is that judgment should be withheld until all relevant witnesses are interviewed and all documents reviewed,” Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the committee, wrote on USA TODAY’s opinion page.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., called that “unsubstantiated nonsense.” He said new documents received by the IRS demonstrate that liberal groups may also have received additional scrutiny, although IRS officials have also said that the targeting of Tea Party groups went well beyond that of other political groups.

“We need to stop making baseless accusations, and we need to get full information about the treatment of all of these groups, conservative, liberal, and everyone in between,” Cummings said.

Regardless of their ideology, it was groups critical of the government that were being targeted for more scrutiny, said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. “I think it’s disgraceful that we’re squandering the opportunity to get to the bottom of this because of partisan bickering,” he said.

Shesgreen and Korte write for USA Today.

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