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Holder: Potential civil rights violations at IRS

By Stephen Ohlemacher

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:25 a.m. HST, May 15, 2013

WASHINGTON » The FBI's criminal investigation of the Internal Revenue Service could include potential civil rights violations, false statements and potential violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in some partisan political activities, Attorney General Eric Holder said today.

Holder, testifying to the House Judiciary Committee, was asked what criminal charges could be pursued against IRS employees or officials. Holder announced on Tuesday that the Justice Department was the investigating the IRS after the agency acknowledged that agents had singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.

"I can assure you and the American people that we will take a dispassionate view of this," Holder said. "This will not be about parties, this will not be about ideological persuasions. Anybody who has broken the law will be held accountable."

Holder also says it will take time to determine if there was criminal wrongdoing.

As the investigation widened, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters he had this question: "Who's going to jail over this scandal?"

"There are laws in place to prevent this type of abuse. Someone made a conscious decision to harass and to hold up these requests for tax exempt status," Boehner said. "I think we need to know who they are and whether they violated the law. Clearly someone violated the law."

Today's hearing was the first of several in Congress that will focus on the issue.

The House oversight committee announced today that it will hold a hearing May 22, featuring Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS division that oversees tax exempt organizations, and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, whose five-year term ended in November.

The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing Friday, featuring the acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller, and the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, J. Russell George.

Three congressional committees are investigating the IRS for singling out tea party and other conservative groups during the 2010 congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election. But Holder's announcement would take the matter to another level if investigators are able to prove that laws were broken.

Ineffective management at the IRS allowed agents to improperly target tea party groups for more than 18 months, said a report released Tuesday by George's office.

The report said that while their applications for tax exempt status languished, tea party groups were asked a host of inappropriate questions, including: Who are your donors? What are the political affiliations of officers? What issues are important to the organization, and what are your positions on those issues? Will any officers in the group run for public office? Where do you work?

The report lays much of the blame on IRS supervisors in Washington who oversaw a group of specialists in Cincinnati who screened applications for tax exempt status.

It does not indicate that Washington initiated the targeting of conservative groups. But it does say a top supervisor in Washington did not adequately supervise agents in the field even after she learned the agents were acting improperly.

"The report's findings are intolerable and inexcusable," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "The federal government must conduct itself in a way that's worthy of the public's trust, and that's especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test."

The agency started targeting groups with "Tea Party," ''Patriots" or "9/12 Project" in their applications for tax exempt status in March 2010, the inspector general's report said. By August 2010, it was part of the written criteria used to flag groups for additional scrutiny.

Lerner had been briefed on the matter in June 2011. She ordered the initial tea party criteria to be scrapped, but it later evolved to include groups that promoted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The practice was ended in May 2012, the report said.

IRS agents were trying to determine whether the political activities of such groups disqualified them for tax exempt status. These groups were claiming tax exempt status as organizations promoting social welfare. Unlike other charitable groups, they can engage in political activity. But politics cannot be their primary mission.

It is up to the IRS to make the determination.

But by using improper criteria, the IRS targeted some groups, even though there were no indications that they engaged in significant political activities, the report said. Other non-tea party groups that had significant political activities were not screened, the report said.

"The criteria developed by the Determinations Unit gives the appearance that the IRS is not impartial in conducting its mission," the report said.

"Unfortunately, the report raises more questions than it answers," said House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. "What we do know for sure is that the IRS personnel responsible for granting tax exemptions systematically targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny, and that officials in Washington, D.C., were aware of this practice, even while publicly claiming that it never happened."

The IRS on Friday apologized for singling out tea party and other conservative groups.

On Tuesday, the agency said, "After seeing issues with particular cases, inappropriate shortcuts were used to determine which cases may be engaging in political activities. It is important to note that the vast majority of these cases would still have been centralized based on the general criteria used for other cases."

Associated Press reporter Andrew Miga contributed to this report.

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ryan02 wrote:
501(c)(4)'s must be civic leagues, social welfare organizations, and local associations of employees. They cannot be primarily political. It's the IRS's job to make that call. How are they supposed to make that determination if they're not allowed to question the groups about their activities? I guess the "wrong" was that the IRS focused on these tea-party type groups rather than trying to catch all organizations - but these tea party-types did proliferate only in recent years, so why shouldn't they be a focus? But I would agree with the IRS scrutinizing ALL tax-exempt entities, because I suspect the majority of them should not be. But they just don't have the resources.
on May 15,2013 | 09:42AM
peanutgallery wrote:
Your myopic focus surely outs you as a progressive Kool-Aid drinker. If you don't find this behavior chilling, your head is way deep into the sand.
on May 15,2013 | 10:36AM
palani wrote:
(Posted this on the letters page, but I've learned from the Democrat machine that redundancy is often a necessity.)

The Article 2, Impeachment Count 1 against then President Nixon involved misusing the IRS to pursue those on his enemies list. From http://classes.lls.edu/archive/manheimk/371d1/nixonarticles.html

He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavoured to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposes not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.

The culture of any organization is set at the top. The current president is the most divisive and partisan we have ever had. His sycophant minions blindly follow his example, but cracks are beginning to appear in the foundation of fortress Obama.

Now that this "local boy" has, perhaps irreversibly, antagonized his Palace Guard, the mainstream press, how long will the truth be suppressed?

on May 15,2013 | 09:44AM
ross13moon wrote:
so you're saying BO ordered the IRS to conduct these activities? WOW, a vivid imagination
on May 15,2013 | 10:19AM
peanutgallery wrote:
You don't know that he didn't, just as the previous poster doesn't know that he did. We don't yet have the facts, but certainly you would agree that this is so serious the President shold pull-out all stops to find-out, right?
on May 15,2013 | 10:41AM
palani wrote:
ross13moon, I wrote that the culture is set at the top, that pointy head being the President. His history is one of constantly bashing, vilifying, and demonizing anyone who dares to disagree with him. In October of 2010, Obama, while on a campaign swing, told an audience of Hispanics in an interview with Eddie "Piolin" Sotelothat they had to go to the polls and vote in order to "punish their enemies." The President has established a sinister tone in Washington, and it should come as no surprise that his mindless supporters directly take their lead from his example.
on May 15,2013 | 12:41PM
Mythman wrote:
It's called Hate and it's why our founding fathers set up a system of checks and balances called Separation of Powers - now let the judiciary sanction the abuse of the executive branch with the help of the other branch, the legislative. Barry was taught how being a petty dictator works by growing up in Hawaii, where he learned how Hawaii worked for the past 50 years, as a thugocracy.
on May 15,2013 | 03:01PM
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