WASHINGTON — Two Internal Revenue Service agents working in the agency's Cincinnati office say higher-ups in Washington directed the targeting of conservative political groups when they applied for tax-exempt status, a contention that directly contradicts claims made by the agency.
The Cincinnati agents didn't provide proof that senior IRS officials in Washington ordered the targeting. But one of the agents said her work processing the applications was closely supervised by a Washington lawyer in the IRS division that handles applications for tax-exempt status, according to a transcript of her interview with congressional investigators. Her interview suggests a long trail of emails that could support her claim.
The revelation could prove to be significant if investigators are able to show that Washington officials were involved in singling out tea party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny. IRS officials have said repeatedly that the targeting was initiated by front-line agents in the Cincinnati office and was stopped once senior officials in Washington found out.
The Associated Press viewed transcripts of interviews with two IRS agents working in the Cincinnati office.
Gary Muthert, an IRS agent there, said his local supervisor told him in March 2010 to check the applications for tax-exempt status to see how many were from groups with "tea party" in their names. The supervisor's name was blacked out in the transcript.
"He told me that Washington, D.C., wanted some cases," Muthert said of his supervisor.
Muthert said he came up with fewer than 10 applications. But after checking some of the group's websites, he noticed similar groups with "patriots' or "9-12 project" in their names, so he started looking for applications that mentioned those terms too.
Over a two-month period, Muthert said he found about 40 applications that mentioned tea party, patriots or 9-12 project.