Poll: Majority Of Americans Believe IRS Deliberately Targeted Tea Party

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Outgoing acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, left, and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman arrive a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill on May 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Outgoing acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, left, and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman arrive a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill on May 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — A new survey finds that a majority of Americans believe that the Internal Revenue Service deliberately targeted conservative groups.

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that 56 percent of people believe that it was a deliberate effort by the IRS to harass Tea Party and other conservative groups, while only 31 percent believe it was just an administrative mistake.

More people believe that the White House was trying to cover up facts surrounding the IRS scandal. Forty-five percent believe the Obama administration is withholding facts while 42 percent believe they honestly disclosed what they know.

Seventy-four percent of the 1,001 people polled believe that it was inappropriate for the IRS to go after conservative groups.

In testimony to the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday, former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said that he knew little about what was happening while he was still in charge.

“I agree this is an issue that when someone spotted it, they should have brought it up the chain. And they didn’t. I don’t know why,” Shulman said, adding that he was “dismayed and saddened” to read about the targeting in the inspector general’s report.

Shulman, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, left the IRS in November when his five-year term ended.

On Monday, the White House revealed that chief of staff Denis McDonough and other senior presidential advisers knew in late April that an upcoming inspector general’s report was likely to find that IRS employees had inappropriately targeted conservative political groups.

The White House says McDonough and the other advisers did not tell President Barack Obama about the impending report, leaving him to learn the results from news reports on May 10. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama was comfortable with the fact that “some matters are not appropriate to convey to him, and this is one of them.”

A Treasury official also disclosed Monday that the department told the White House twice in late April about IRS plans to address the targeting publicly, including during congressional testimony and a possible speech by Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. White House deputy chief of staff Mark Childress and Treasury chief of staff Mark Patterson were in communication on the matter, as were lawyers at the White House and Treasury.

However, the official said Treasury did not tell the White House about Lerner’s eventual decision to apologize for the targeting at a conference on May 10. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and insisted on anonymity.

The IRS is an independent agency within the Treasury Department. Because of that independent status, the official said Treasury deferred to the IRS in its decision about how to make the targeting public.

For more than a year, from 2011 through the 2012 election, members of Congress repeatedly asked Shulman about complaints from tea party groups that they were being harassed by the IRS.

Shulman’s responses, usually relayed by a deputy, did not acknowledge that agents had ever targeted Tea Party groups for special scrutiny. At a congressional hearing March 22, 2012, Shulman was adamant in his denials.

“There’s absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people” who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman said at the House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing.

The IRS has said Shulman did not know about the targeting at the time of the hearing.

The agency’s inspector general says he told Shulman on May 30, 2012, that his office was auditing the way applications for tax-exempt status were being handled, in part because of complaints from conservative groups. However, the inspector general, J. Russell George, said he did not reveal the results of his investigation.

George was also testifying at Tuesday’s hearing. So was Steven Miller, who took over as acting commissioner in November, when Shulman’s term expired. Last week, Obama forced Miller to resign.

George issued a report last week blaming ineffective management for allowing agents to inappropriately target conservative groups for more than 18 months during the 2010 and 2012 elections.

The agents were trying to determine whether the groups were engaged in political activity. Certain tax-exempt groups are allowed to engage in politics, but politics cannot be their primary mission. It is up to the IRS to make the determination, so agents are supposed to look for clues when reviewing applications for tax-exempt status.

In March 2010, agents starting singling out groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriots” on their applications. By August 2010, it was part of the written criteria for identifying groups that required more scrutiny, according to George’s report.

Agents did not flag similar progressive or liberal labels, though some liberal groups received additional scrutiny because their applications were singled out for other reasons, the report said.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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