WASHINGTON — Senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting tea-party groups as early as 2011, according to a draft of an inspector general’s report that seemingly contradicts public statements by the IRS commissioner.
The IRS apologized Friday for what it acknowledged was “inappropriate” targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status. The agency blamed low-level employees, saying no high-level officials were aware.
But on June 29, 2011, Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, learned at a meeting that groups were being targeted, according to the watchdog’s report.
At the meeting, she was told that groups with “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12 Project” in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny, the report says. The 9/12 Project is a group started by conservative TV personality Glenn Beck.
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Lerner instructed agents to change the criteria for flagging groups “immediately,” the report says.
The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the final results of a nearly yearlong investigation this week. The draft report was shared with congressional aides.
Among the other revelations: On
Jan, 25, 2012, the criteria for flagging suspect groups was changed to, “political-action-type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social-economic reform/movement,” the report says.
While this was happening, several committees in Congress were writing to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to express concern because tea-party groups were complaining of IRS harassment.
Shulman’s responses did not acknowledge targeting of tea-party groups. At a congressional hearing March 22, 2012, he was adamant in his denials. “There’s absolutely no targeting,” he said at the House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing.
The draft report does not say whether Shulman or anyone else in the Obama administration outside the IRS was informed of the targeting.
Shulman was appointed by President George W. Bush, a Republican. His six-year term ended in November.