The FBI is not planning to file criminal charges involving the Internal Revenue Service's extra scrutiny of the Tea Party and other conservative groups, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing law enforcement officials.
The newspaper quoted officials as saying that investigators probing the IRS actions, which unleashed a political furor in Washington, did not uncover the type of political bias or "enemy hunting" that would constitute a criminal violation. The evidence showed a mismanaged agency enforcing rules it did not understand on applications for tax exemptions, the Journal reported.
The case is still under investigation, but criminal charges were unlikely unless unexpected evidence emerged, officials familiar with the probe told the paper.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment when queried by Reuters.
If there are no criminal charges as expected, the FBI is likely to see a backlash from already skeptical conservative groups which had raised the idea that the administration would not police itself.
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa last week questioned whether a prosecutor handling the case for the Justice Department could remain impartial when he donated to the Obama campaign.
And just last week, The Washington Times reported that some conservative groups were only just being contacted by the IRS, raising the question of just how thorough an investigation the FBI conducted.
Cleta Mitchell, another attorney representing some of the targeted groups, said last week her clients have not heard from investigators.
"Normally, don't you first interview the victims?" Mitchell said. "I mean, I've watched enough cop shows over the years. You interview the victims. You don't interview the perp."
FBI Director James Comey told reporters last week when asked about the IRS probe, "It's an investigation that we're still working, and that's an important one for us." He declined to comment on whether the FBI believed a crime had been committed.
In May, a senior IRS executive made an unexpected public apology at a legal conference for what she described as improper scrutiny by the agency of conservative political groups.
The apology set off weeks of investigation and controversy, culminating in findings that Tea Party-linked political groups applying for tax-exempt status had been subjected to extra review and delay by employees at an IRS Cincinnati field office.
Republican lawmakers attacked President Barack Obama's administration over the issue, accusing the agency of political bias.
Obama asked then-acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller to resign in the days after the disclosure, and the FBI opened an investigation.
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