- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2016

The IRS is still holding up three tea party groups’ applications, Commissioner John Koskinen admitted in a letter to Congress last week — but he insisted he agents are finally about to begin processing them.

Mr. Koskinen is hoping to head off yet another judicial spanking for his agency, which has suffered a string of defeats in federal courts that ruled he is still improperly targeting conservative groups and mistreating them more than three years after the tax agency admitted to its bad behavior.

Not only are three groups still awaiting approval, but the IRS had left open the possibility of kick-starting the use of its targeting, or “be on lookout” (BOLO), lists that the agency used to figure out who it was subjecting to intrusive scrutiny.

Now, Mr. Koskinen is finally moving to shut the operation down for good.

“There should be no doubt that the use of BOLO lists has not just been temporarily suspended, it has been eliminated,” he said in letters to key committees on Capitol Hill.

He also said that the three applications that have been delayed — among them the Albuquerque Tea Party and the Texas Patriots Tea Party — will finally be processed.

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But Mr. Koskinen didn’t give any more details about what that means, and it’s unclear how long it will take or whether he’ll still subject the groups to extra questions.

The IRS had said it couldn’t process applications once those groups sued. In one case it even argued it lost jurisdiction if a group sued.

Judges on the federal appeals court in Washington, though, mocked that as a legal charade, writing an opinion comparing Mr. Koskinen’s logic to the famous Catch-22 from Joseph Heller’s book.

“The IRS is telling applicants in these cases that ‘we have been violating your rights and not properly processing your applications. You are entitled to have your applications processed. But if you ask for that processing by way of a lawsuit, then you can’t have it,’” Judge David B. Sentelle wrote.

The D.C. appeals court ordered a lower court to conduct a full review of the IRS’s claim that it’s stopped targeting.

Mr. Koskinen’s letter to members of Congress appears designed to answer the court by cleaning up the remaining mess.

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He wrote his letter to the Republican chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Oversight Committee.

Curiously, the letter is dated Aug. 18 — but the Justice Department lawyers who presented it to the court said it was dated Aug. 20.

“He makes clear the IRS’s commitment to focus the tax-exempt application process on organizations’ activities and categorically avoid any selection or further review of potential political cases based on names and policy positions,” the Justice Department said.

But the IRS did not tell the court or the lawmakers what the new non-political approval process will involve, nor how long it will take. The agency last week declined to answer questions about the process submitted by The Washington Times.

The Albuquerque Tea Party has been awaiting approval for nearly seven years, having filed its nonprofit status application in December 2009.

IRS officials have admitted they put tea party groups through inappropriate scrutiny. There is no evidence that the targeting was ordered by the White House, but it did extend to the highest levels of the IRS’s D.C. headquarters — contrary to what the IRS had initially implied.

IRS officials say they got confused by the standards for judging nonprofit applicants’ political activities in the wake of a 2010 Supreme Court case, and were awaiting better guidance.

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

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