The FBI finally has begun to contact some of the tea party groups targeted by the Internal Revenue Service for inappropriate scrutiny in the first public signs that the administration’s criminal investigation is progressing.
A lawyer representing some of the tea party groups that battled the IRS for tax-exempt status told The Washington Times that a “small number” of his clients were recently contacted, seven months after the investigation was supposed to have begun.
The progress was revealed a day after The Times reported that the Justice Department lawyer who is leading the investigation into the IRS, Barbara Kay Bosserman, has donated more than $6,000 to President Obama’s presidential campaigns — a move that, for many Republicans, has called into question the entire investigation.
“They say the fox isn’t good to guard the henhouse; the fox is probably not good to investigate the henhouse, either,” said Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican. “I think these investigations need to be done by independent people outside of the administration.”
Mr. Holder ordered an FBI investigation in the days immediately after the internal auditor of the IRS revealed that the agency had been inappropriately targeting tea party groups for intrusive scrutiny and wrongly delayed the approval of hundreds of conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status.
Little has been heard about the progress of the investigation in the eight months since, and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa began his own investigation into the FBI’s efforts.
The FBI has rejected many of Mr. Issa’s requests for documents, but the California Republican said he did learn that Ms. Bosserman was leading the investigation from the Justice Department. On Wednesday, Mr. Issa sent a letter to Mr. Holder saying the selection of an Obama campaign donor tainted the entire investigation.
The Justice Department said federal law and department policy prevent officials from doling out assignments based on a career employee’s political views, and that denial of an assignment based on campaign donations would violate a worker’s right to participate in the political process.
Ms. Bosserman didn’t respond to requests for comment about her donation history or about the status of the investigation.
The news that the FBI has begun contacting some of the tea party groups signals that some action has been taken.
“After seven months of no contact from federal investigators, a small number of our clients recently received a request for an interview from the FBI,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice, which represents more than three dozen groups.
“This development creates a serious conflict of interest and raises more questions and doubts about the Obama administration’s promise to get to the bottom of what happened,” he said.
The IRS internal auditor found that the agency singled out tea party groups for intrusive scrutiny, with agency investigators asking questions about groups’ reading lists, members’ political affiliations and volunteer histories, and work with other tea party groups.
Later revelations showed that some liberal groups also were caught up in the special scrutiny, but not to the level of the tea party-affiliated organizations.