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Republicans slam IRS targeting of Tea Party as 'chilling,' a form of intimidation

 

Washington Republicans on Sunday characterized the IRS targeting Tea Party groups and other conservative political organizations as “chilling” and intimidating acts that heighten Americans' mistrust in government.

Their comments follow the IRS acknowledgment Friday that the agency targeted such groups during the 2012 election cycle to see whether they were violating their tax-exempt status -- a revelation followed by a report that such activity dated back to the previous year.

“The conclusion that the IRS came to is that they did have agents who were engaged in intimidation of political groups,” Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers told “Fox News Sunday.” “I don't care if you're a conservative, a liberal, a Democrat or a Republican, this should send a chill up your spine. It needs to have a full investigation.”

Evidence that the IRS was flagging such groups in 2011 was included in a draft inspector general's report obtained Saturday by Fox News and other news organizations and is expected to be released in full later this week.

That information seemingly contradicts public statements by IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, who told congressional investigators in March 2011 that specific groups were not being targeted.

On Sunday, Fox News obtained a timeline from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that shows the practice started in 2010 and that IRS agents also were looking for groups associated with such phrases as "We the People," and "Take Back the Country."

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins on Sunday also called the IRS activities chilling and said she was disappointed that President Obama had not condemned the actions.

“This is truly outrageous and it contributes to the profound distrust that the American people have in government,” Collins told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It is absolutely chilling that the IRS was singling out conservative groups for extra review. And I think that it’s very disappointing that the president hasn’t personally condemned this.”

At about the same time, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney released a statement saying: “If the inspector general finds that there were any rules broken or that conduct of government officials did not meet the standards required of them, the president expects that swift and appropriate steps will be taken to address any misconduct."

Michigan Republican Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said Friday his committee will hold a hearing on the issue.

The IRS said Friday that it was sorry for what it called the "inappropriate" targeting of the conservative groups during the 2012 elections.

But the draft report seemingly contradicts public statements by Shulman and shows senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting Tea Party groups as early as 2011.

Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, said Friday that the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias.

But on June 29, 2011, Lerner found out that such groups were being targeted, according to the inspector general's report.

She was told at a meeting that groups with "Tea Party," "Patriot" or "9/12 Project" in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny, the report states.

The 9/12 Project is a group started by conservative TV personality Glenn Beck.

Collins also said she does not believe the activity was limited to “a couple of rogue IRS employees."

"After all,” she added, “groups with `progressive' in their names were not targeted similarly."

California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Affairs, was also dubious about the explanation that the flagging was a limited, low-level activity.

"This mea culpa is not an honest one," he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Lerner said that about 300 groups were singled out for additional review, with about one-quarter scrutinized because they had "tea party" or "patriot" somewhere in their applications.

She also said 150 of the cases have been closed and no group had its tax-exempt status revoked, though some withdrew their applications.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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