IRS planned secret new rules to justify targeting tea party groups two years ago, reveals bombshell email
The IRS was working on a plan to justify targeting some nonprofit groups for special scrutiny as early as 2012, according to a new document
Republicans demanded answers on Wednesday as the IRS circled its wagons
President Obama said there wasn't 'a smidgen of corruption' in a plan that singled out right-wing groups applying for tax exemptions
The new timeline shows that the IRS was working to change its rules long before an inspector general report revealed the depth of the targeting
Investigators still haven't interviewed many conservative groups that were denied tax-exempt status while their liberal counterparts sailed through
By David Martosko, U.s. Political Editor
PUBLISHED: 13:48 EST, 5 February 2014 | UPDATED: 14:44 EST, 5 February 2014
Republicans clashed with the Internal Revenue Service's new commissioner Wednesday in a Capitol Hill hearing that featured the unveiling a document indicating that the agency planned as early as 2012 to change its rules in a way that justified singling out tea party groups for special scrutiny.
The document, an email from Treasury Department tax policy attorney Ruth Madrigal to a group of IRS officials including the disgraced Lois Lerner.
'Don’t know who in your organizations is keeping tabs on c4s,' Madrigal wrote, quoting an election law blog and referring to the 501(c)(4) tax-exempt groups that were the subject of the tea party targeting scandal, 'but since we mentioned potentially addressing them (off plan) in 2013, I’ve got my radar up and this seemed interesting.'
House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Dave Camp insisted Wednesday that Madrigal's note indicated that new regulations were planned as a 'remedy to the target[ing]' back in 2011 and 2012. 'I’m pretty sure [off-plan] means "hidden from the public",' he said.
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Tea party groups say the IRS targeted them for their political beliefs but the government agency has been slow to turn over documents showing if the slow-walking of tax-exempt applications was a conscious effort to cripple the organizations
A Treasury Department email unveiled during Wednesday?s hearing shows the IRS considered new rules that would hamper tea party groups a month after the targeting scandal broke
The revelation that the IRS planned two years ago to change the way it approached approving those groups for tax-exempt status is raising eyebrows because it indicates the agency was aware early on that its practice of singling out conservative groups was out of sync with existing regulations.
In November the IRS formalized those plans, raising the hackles of Republicans who say officials are trying to codify the tactics that put right-wing groups applying for tax-exempt status in perpetual limbo while liberal groups were quickly approved.
The hearing brought out attacks from GOP members of the House Ways and Means committee who grilled newly minted IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over the timeline, saying it proved his agency knew it was acting improperly long before an inspector general report revealed the depth of the tea party targeting program.
That report prompted President Obama to ask for the resignation of Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller.
Republicans in the House Oversight Committee have uncovered evidence that IRS officials in Washington directed a field office in Cincinnati to put a 'hold' on tea party groups' applications, but the scandal has not reached the level of direct White House involvement.
Not amused: House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp is demanding documents that will show if the IRS moved to change its rules because officials knew they were unfairly targeting conservative groups
House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee Chairman Rep. Charles Boustany (L) and ranking member John Lewis sparred Wednesday over the IRS's program that singled out right-wing groups for lengthy scrutiny
Poster child? Then-IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner refused to testify on May 22, 2013 about her part in targeting tea party groups during the 2010 election seasonAnother subcommittee, in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, will hold a separate hearing on Thursday and has invited Barbara Bosserman, the attorney in charge of the IRS's internal investigation, to testify. She has not said whether she will show up to answer questions.
Attempts to contact Bosserman on Wednesday were unsuccessful. She has attracted conservatives' barbs for her political leanings, evidenced by more than $6,000 in contributions to the political campaigns of President Barack Obama and other Democrats.
President Obama claimed Sunday in a televised interview with Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly that the IRS wasn't engaged in partisan witch hunts of conservative groups during the 2010 election season, despite statistics that suggest otherwise Lermer's refusal to testify about her actions.
'The president claimed there was not "even a smidgeon of corruption" at the IRS,' complained Louisiana Republican Rep. Charles Boustany during the hearing, 'and he blamed the targeting on "bone-headed decisions" by "a local office." Now, this committee has actually investigated the matter, and found otherwise. The president’s staff is either ill-informed or they are misleading him.'
Boustany chairs the subcommittee that held Wednesday's hearing. He and Camp have demanded documents from Koskinen detailing the timeline and process behind the regulatory changes, but the IRS commissioner has pushed back saying that providing the material would 'interfere' with his agency's rulemaking.
Conservatives are still angry about what they say is a White House using the IRS as a political weapon, and point to the Nixon administration for comparison
'Adding insult to injury ... the IRS continues to withhold documents requested by this committee pursuant to an ongoing investigation,' Boustany saud. 'Commissioner Koskinen, turn over the documents your agency owes us and let’s start this relationship on the right foot.'
'I want to be perfectly clear,' said Camp. 'This committee will fight any and all efforts to restrict the rights of groups to organize, speak-out and educate the public, just as unions are allowed to do so.'
'We will get to the bottom of this, and I expect the IRS to produce – quickly – the outstanding documents the committee has requested.'Democrats on the subcommittee mocked Republicans' efforts to press for answers, framing them as a political witch hunt aimed at Obama during a congressional election year that will determine the shape of Washington politics during the president's final two years in office.
'All of these efforts to tie this to the White House have been fallacious,' said Democrat Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan.
Koskinen indicated that he wants to put the entire matter in the IRS's rear-view mirror.
'Nobody wants this investigation to be completed sooner than I do,' he said during his testimony, adding later that 'I'd like to close the 501(c)(4) issue.'
Tea party groups have complained, however, that investigators – including the politically conflicted Bosserman – have never contacted them about how their tax-exempt applications were delayed for as long as three years while left-leaning groups won near-instant approval.