WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Conservatives are lashing out at the Internal Revenue Service for targeting Tea Party groups.
The IRS said Friday that it was sorry for what it called the “inappropriate” targeting of the conservative 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 according to a draft of a watchdog’s report obtained Saturday by The Associated Press that seemingly contradicts public statements by the IRS commissioner, senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting Tea Party groups as early as 2011.
Former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin called the IRS revelation “another step in the unraveling of the Obama administration’s self-proclaimed ‘hope and change.’”
“Between the Benghazi cover-up and the IRS targeting Obama’s political opponents, we see the corruption at the heart of big government,” Palin posted on Facebook.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Iowa, called it a “stunning abuse of power.”
“The American people deserve answers as to who authorized it — it is hard to believe this was a ‘low-level’ decision,” she said in a statement to CBS News. “And as one of the key agencies charged with enforcing Obamacare, it is also reasonable to ask if any healthcare decisions have been based on political affiliation and what assurances we have that this type of intimidation will never happen again.”
The Tea Party has rejected the agency’s apology and has called for a full investigation into the matter.
“The Tea Party Patriots rejects the apology from the Internal Revenue Service,” Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, said in a statement to CBS News. “The IRS lied. They lied before Congress in 2011, and they lied again [in the agency's apology]. We must know how many more lies they have been telling, and how high up the chain the cover-up goes.”
The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the results of a nearly yearlong investigation in the coming week.
Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, said last week that the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias.
But on June 29, 2011, Lerner 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.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said “the conclusion that the IRS came to is that they did have agents who were engaged in intimidation of political groups is as dangerous a problem” as the government can have.
He added, “This should send a chill up your spine. … I don’t know where it stops or who is involved.”
Congressional Republicans already are conducting several investigations and asked for more.
“This mea culpa is not an honest one,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
After the Associated Press report, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that if the inspector general “finds that there were any rules broken or that conduct of government officials did not meet the standards required of them, the president expects that swift and appropriate steps will be taken to address any misconduct.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the revelations about the nation’s tax agency only contribute to “the profound distrust that the American people have in government. It is absolutely chilling that the IRS was singling out conservative groups for extra review.”
The IRS’ Lerner said that about 300 groups were singled out for additional review, with about one-quarter scrutinized because they had “tea party” or “patriot” somewhere in their applications.
She said 150 of the cases have been closed and no group had its tax-exempt status revoked, though some withdrew their applications.
Collins appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rogers was on “Fox News Sunday” and Issa spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
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