The IRS knew agents were targeting tea party groups through “guilt by association” as far back as 2011, according to new documents released Wednesday by Judicial Watch that show the tax agency was deeply skeptical of all the new conservative groups emerging under President Obama’s watch.
“Agents were jumping to negative conclusions,” one IRS employee said in a handwritten note the agency produced to Judicial Watch, a conservative law firm.
The documents also confirm IRS bigwigs knew some cases were being handled at headquarters in Washington, D.C., despite top agency officials saying they were not part of the targeting and blaming it on misinformed employees in an office in Cincinnati.
“This further confirms the IRS knew about abuses years before they were exposed,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said. “President Trump needs to reopen the criminal investigation of the IRS as soon as he is sworn into office.”
The IRS didn’t provide a comment Wednesday. The agency recently admitted in court that it improperly subjected tea party groups to intrusive scrutiny and questioning over their activities.
Obama administration officials have maintained that line-agents were the ones prodding the groups with probing questions.
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Information released by Judicial Watch, however, shows the scrutiny was systematic. One document contains what was labeled “Development Qs” — a list of suggested questions that agents were to ask about not only the organization’s activities, but also about the personal activities of individual members.
The handwritten note released Wednesday also showed the Cincinnati office shipped entire case files to Washington where staffers probed the groups and denial letters were written — then sent back to Cincinnati, which officially issued the denials.
Tea party leaders who received the questions have said it sounded like the IRS was trying to compile an enemies list.
The new documents detail the IRS’s system of “buckets” — categories they siphoned applications into, based on an initial sense for each application.
Tea party applications, by definition, were never sent to the quick-approval bucket, according to agency critics.
The documents obtained by Judicial Watch were mostly redacted by the IRS, which said they contained legal advice protected from disclosure.
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The handwritten note’s author was not specifically revealed. The IRS said it came from files from four staffers in the chief counsel’s office, a Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division employee Nalee Park, and former IRS employee Sarah Hall Ingram.
According to the note, the IRS was receiving a wide range of applications, including those who’d clearly had legal advice and others that were handwritten and raised a number of questions in agents’ minds.
In those cases agents were told to probe the groups’ websites to see what they could find out about activities.