- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 2, 2013

Two weeks before news broke that the IRS had targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny of their tax-exempt applications, a moderate GOP organization received word it was being audited — a move its organizers said suggests the tax agency’s scrutiny included non-tea party political groups.

Meanwhile the House’s top investigator, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, released partial transcripts Sunday of interviews with IRS employees that the congressman said show officials in Washington were aware of the scrutiny.

The uneven scrutiny was “a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters and we’re getting to proving it,” said Mr. Issa, California Republican, on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“My gut tells me that too many people knew this wrongdoing was going on before the election and at least by some sort of convenient, benign neglect allowed it to go on through the election,” Mr. Issa said. “I’m not making any allegations as to motive, that they set out to do it. But certainly people knew it was happening.”

The latest accusations come as IRS officials prepare for yet another series of hearings on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are now investigating everything from the agency’s management to the way IRS staffers spend money on travel and conferences.

“The IRS is an agency in crisis,” said Mr. Issa on Friday, upon announcing that he has scheduled a hearing Thursday to look at IRS spending on lavish hotel suites and high-dollar entertaining. “The oversight committee will examine these egregious abuses of the public trust and an IRS culture that shuns accountability.”

SEE ALSO: Rep. Issa: No confidence in Eric Holder, and Jay Carney’s a ‘paid liar’

On Sunday, Mr. Issa continued to skewer White House claims that the Cincinnati office was acting independently.

“Their paid liar, their spokesperson he’s still making up things about what happened and calling this a local rogue,” said Mr. Issa, referencing a photo of White House spokesman Jay Carney. “The president’s spokesman — spokesperson — is saying whatever’s convenient at the time. The story changes.”

Mr. Issa’s committee will look into videos his investigators obtained of lavish conferences held by the IRS, similar to those that landed the General Services Administration, another federal agency, in hot water several years ago. Mr. Issa said some of the deals worked out with hotels amounted to “kickbacks.”

The IRS says the conferences happened some time ago and that it no longer spends money so lavishly, but Mr. Issa countered that the recent revelations about the agency targeting conservatives should leave taxpayers wondering about the agency.

Also this week are a hearing with new acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel, whom President Obama tapped to clean up the mess, and a hearing to give some of the conservative groups who were targeted a chance to testify.

An inspector general has reported that the IRS specifically targeted conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status, subjecting them to probing questions that agency officials now acknowledge were inappropriate.

SEE ALSO: Reince Priebus: Fixing IRS is a chance for GOP, Democrats to come together

But other groups not on the inspector general’s list have also come forward and said they felt like they got unwarranted extra scrutiny from the tax agency — and that group now includes the moderate-leaning Main Street Partnership.

The audit notice for MSP came from the same Cincinnati office that the inspector general blamed for the conservative groups’ scrutiny, said former Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, Ohio Republican, who is the head of the partnership.

IRS officials told the group they are auditing its 2009 filings, when the group was still known as the Republican Main Street Partnership. Mr. LaTourette said that raises the question of whether the IRS was targeting anyone associated with the GOP.

“This speaks to something broader than just tea party or tax party,” he said last week.

Mr. LaTourette said the questions his group received for audit were not as intrusive as the lengthy sets that were sent to tea party organizations, some of which were asked to disclose their reading lists, the size and scope of their crew of volunteers and, in some cases, their relationships with other tea party groups.

Instead, the MSP audit sought financial information, Mr. LaTourette said.

While some lawmakers question the scope of the IRS inquiries, others are interesting in who the highest level official was to know of or approve the special scrutiny.

In the transcripts Mr. Issa released on Sunday one official from the Cincinnati office, who is not named, was asked by investigators whether the directions to target tea party groups “emanated from Washington.”

“I believe so,” the employee said.

Another employee requested to change jobs to get away from the micromanagement of higher-ups pressing for special scrutiny of tea party applications, according to other excerpts.

On Sunday’s talk shows, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus also pinned some blame on how the White House, other Democratic lawmakers and liberal activists fostered an atmosphere of hostility toward tea party and patriot groups.

“Certainly the culture of the president calling tea party groups terrorists and ‘tea baggers,’ and that entire culture, has been cultivated by the president and his people, and everyone has been following suit,” Mr. Preibus said on “Fox News Sunday.”

But former Obama administration adviser David Plouffe denied Sunday that the White House was driving the agency’s scrutiny of Mr. Obama’s political foes, saying it would be “the dumbest political effort of all time.”

“No one has indicated at all that the White House is involved,” said Mr. Plouffe on ABC’s “This Week.” “The IRS director was appointed under President [George W.] Bush and served under both presidents. This was not a political pursuit.”

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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