IRS lacked 'sensitivity' in screenings of political groups; DOJ to investigate

By Stephen Ohlemacher

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, May 14 2013 3:32 p.m. MDT

"The biggest thing was just the amount of time," said Hodges. "We would answer these questions on the side and thought this is never going to end. It's never going to cease."

The IRS did not respond Tuesday to questions about why agents outside Cincinnati had also questioned tea party groups.

In an opinion piece in Tuesday's editions of USA Today, acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller conceded that the agency demonstrated "a lack of sensitivity to the implications of some of the decisions that were made." He said screening of advocacy groups is "factually complex, and it's challenging to separate out political issues from those involving education or social welfare."

These groups were claiming tax-exempt status as organizations promoting social welfare. Unlike other charitable groups, they can engage in political activity. But politics cannot be their primary mission.

That determination is up to the IRS.

Miller said the agency has implemented new procedures that will "ensure the mistakes won't be repeated."

On Monday, the IRS said Miller was first informed on May, 3, 2012, that applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups were inappropriately singled out for extra scrutiny.

At least twice after the briefing, Miller wrote letters to members of Congress to explain the process of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status without disclosing that tea party groups had been targeted. On July 25, 2012, Miller testified before the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee but again did not mention the additional scrutiny — despite being asked about it.

Miller's op-ed did not address why he did not inform Congress after he was briefed.

Miller was a deputy commissioner at the time. He became acting commissioner in November, after Commissioner Douglas Shulman completed his five-year term. Shulman had been appointed by President George W. Bush.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, questioned the timing of the IRS admission. It came days before the expected release of the inspector general's report. The IRS admission was made at an American Bar Association conference.

"This timing is curious," Grassley says in a letter Tuesday to Miller. "The IRS chose not to fully answer long-standing congressional questions on the issue, even though they had been posed months before this particular question was asked at the conference."

Grassley asked Miller to provide records relating to the agency's decision to disclose the targeting of tea party groups at a Friday conference rather than to members of Congress who had been asking about it for more than a year. He also asked for any communications on the issue between the IRS and the White House.

At least three congressional committees have made similar requests. The House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by GOP Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, is holding a hearing on the issue Friday and Miller is scheduled to testify.

On Tuesday, Camp and Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the committee, requested a trove of documents from the IRS on the issue.

Associated Press writer Pete Yost contributed to this report. Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap

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