- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The widening web of lies, deception and abuse of power in the Internal Revenue Service’s outrageous targeting of conservative groups in the 2012 election cycle may be just the tip of the iceberg.

The deeper question to be asked and investigated is to what extent the Obama administration’s hardball political tactics encouraged the agency’s strong-arm, politically motivated war against groups who opposed President Obama’s policies and re-election.

Mr. Obama denies he knew anything about the tax agency’s unprecedented inquiries into the constitutionally protected freedoms of conservative groups who sought tax-exempt status for their educational and informational outreach efforts.

The more immediate question that needs answering, however, is how far up the ladder of authority in the government, and specifically the White House, did other officials know these abuses were being carried out?

The IRS, a supposedly independent agency, has already been caught in a major cover-up when Lois G. Lerner, who runs the program that oversees tax-exempt groups, said last week that “absolutely inappropriate” actions were taken by only a few “front-line people” in the IRS’ Cincinnati office.

It turns out that IRS officials in their Washington, D.C., headquarters were sending out chilling letters of inquiry to conservative groups that had “tea party,” “patriot” and “constitution” in their names. The queries included long, detailed requests for information about their contributors, grants and donors, how much they gave and when the money was received. They even wanted to see speeches by leaders of these conservatives groups.

In one case, the IRS asked the Wetumpka Tea Party of Alabama for the names of any legislators its members had talked to, and the names of all its volunteers.

“I was outraged,” said Becky Gerritson, the Tea Party group’s president. “Being an election year, I felt like it was intimidation.”

Larry Nordvig, president of the Richmond Tea Party, said his group applied for tax-exempt status at the end of 2009, but it was not approved until July 2012. The lengthy inquiry had “a very chilling effect” on fundraising, he said.

One group whose activities were focused on voter fraud was told that its tax application was being reviewed here in Washington. Others got questionnaires from IRS offices in California. This was clearly a nationwide undertaking by the government.

Many wondered if the long holdup of their tax-exempt applications and the inquisitional experience they endured were because of their opposition to the administration’s policies. In a letter to the IRS in June, 2011, an attorney for True the Vote in Houston, which was kept waiting for more than two years, asked if the group’s “opposition to Obamacare and the takeover of America’s health care system by the government is the reason that this application has been held up and not approved?”

In another case involving the long-delayed application for King Street Patriots, an IRS official told the group’s president, “I’m just doing what Washington is telling me to do. I’m just asking what they want me to ask.”

Since the story became public last week, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been receiving phone calls from whistleblowers in the IRS, saying the scandal is more widespread than has been reported thus far.

The targeting campaign’s activities were known by top officials at the agency as early as May 2012, when the presidential campaign was fully underway, according to GOP congressional staffers who were briefed by the IRS and the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the IRS’ acting commissioner, Steven T. Miller, and his deputy learned about the activities in Cincinnati last May. That information, though, was not made available to GOP lawmakers who had asked the IRS to respond to growing allegations from conservative leaders about the political targeting.

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