Officials at the Internal Revenue Service in Washington and at least two other offices investigated conservative groups seeking tax exempt status, it was revealed on Tuesday, casting doubt on claims that the practice was limited to low level officials in the Cincinnati office.
According to documents obtained by The Washington Post
, employees at the agency's Washington headquarters and at the El Monte and Laguna Niguel offices in California sent detailed questionnaires to tea-party related groups, and others that may have presented a challenge to President Barack Obama.
The groups were applying for "social welfare" status, a right granted to some nonprofits following a 2010 court ruling which allowed groups to accept undisclosed and unlimited amounts of money to spend on elections so long as their "primary purpose" was not politics.
In some cases, the agency asked for names of volunteers, donor identification and contribution amounts, the names of legislators its members had communicated with directly or indirectly, and the contents of all speeches its members had made, among a long list of other details, the Post reported.
When questioned about the progress of their applications, officials at the Cincinnati offices told the organizations that their cases were being handled by a task force in Washington.
"For the IRS to say it was some low-level group in Cincinnati is simply false," said Cleta Mitchell, a partner in the law firm Foley & Lardner who sought to communicate with IRS headquarters about the delay in granting tax-exempt status to True the Vote, according to the Post.
A number of other conservative groups, including the Richmond Tea Party and the Wetumpka Tea Party of Alabama, said they also experienced years of delays after submitting their initial applications.
Indeed, according to Republican congressional aides who have been briefed by the IRS and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, knowledge of the IRS's efforts to target conservative groups reached the highest levels of the agency in May 2012 when then-commissioner Doug Shulman and his deputy Steven Miller — now the agency's acting commissioner — were briefed about the practices.
But a statement released by the IRS claimed Shulman was unaware of the practice when he testified before Congress that month after GOP lawmakers sought to investigate claims conservative groups had been targeted.
"I wrote to the IRS three times last year after hearing concerns that conservative groups were being targeted," Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican and member of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement Monday, according to the Post. "In response to the first letter I sent with some of my colleagues, Steven Miller, the current Acting IRS Commissioner, responded that these groups weren't being targeted."
He added, "Knowing what we know now, the IRS was at best being far from forthcoming, or at worst, being deliberately dishonest with Congress."
Republicans and Democrats alike, including the president, have spoken out against what they consider the agency's unacceptable abuse of power.
"If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on, and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that's outrageous," Obama said at a press conference Monday. "And there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable."
He added that the administration "will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this."
On Monday, two Senate panels announced they will investigate the matter, while a number of House committees are also planning to hold hearings.
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