"Lower Level." Officials within the highest echelons of the agency were aware of the inappropriate targeting, including the last two commissioners -- at least one of whom appears to have misled Congress on this very question. Now Politico reports that Lerner herself sent at least one of the probing letters to an Ohio-based conservative group.
The director of the Internal Revenue Service division under fire for singling out conservative groups sent a 2012 letter under her name to one such group, POLITICO has learned. The March 2012 letter was sent to the Ohio-based American Patriots Against Government Excess (American PAGE) under the name of Lois Lerner, the director of the Exempt Organizations Division...at the time of the letter, the group was in the midst of the application process for tax-exempt nonprofit status — a process that would stretch for nearly three years and involve queries for detailed information on its social media activity, its organizational set-up, bylaws, membership and interactions with political officials. The letter threatened to close American PAGE’s case file unless additional information was received within 60 days.
These burdensome requests were apparently designed to bury the victimized groups in paperwork. Carol reported last night that some 58 percent of these applicants were asked for unnecessary information and data, according to the Inspector General's review. Some inquiries asked for screenshots of organizations' Facebook posts and even lists of what books (!) its members were reading.
"No Political Bias" - This claim was laughable on its face from the start, in light of the agency's surreal criteria for added scrutiny and the "red flag" words and phrases that triggered investigations. Now add to the mix this scoop from USA Today:
In February 2010, the Champaign Tea Party in Illinois received approval of its tax-exempt status from the IRS in 90 days, no questions asked. That was the month before the Internal Revenue Service started singling out Tea Party groups for special treatment. There wouldn't be another Tea Party application approved for 27 months. In that time, the IRS approved perhaps dozens of applications from similar liberal and progressive groups, a USA TODAY review of IRS data shows. As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with liberal-sounding names had their applications approved in as little as nine months. With names including words like "Progress" or "Progressive," the liberal groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups.
Lerner also reportedly fast-tracked an approval for a foundation operated by President Obama's half brother, taking the extraordinary step of granting it retroactive tax-free status.
The combination of this being the IRS, the intrusions into privacy (especially the note about demanding their reading lists!), and the patent unfairness of conservative groups getting the red-tape run-around while liberal groups -- including the President's own "Organizing for America" mega-group -- sail through in record time, makes this a scandal with a lot of legs. When you add in the lying of IRS senior personnel (Lerner herself), lying to Congress by the former Commissioner, suspicions about leaks of Romney tax information during the campaign, and what you have is a wide field of inquiry for a special prosecutor, who needs to be appointed quickly.