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Tennessee activist: IRS told me ‘superiors’ gave guidance on screening conservative groups

 

The founder of a conservative group in Tennessee said Tuesday that an IRS agent in Cincinnati told him in late 2011 that their "superiors" were providing guidance on how to screen Tea Party and other organizations -- an account that appears to contradict claims that the practice was limited to low-level staffers in Ohio. 

Kevin Kookogey, who launched Linchpins of Liberty in early 2011 and is still awaiting IRS approval for tax-exempt status, told FoxNews.com he doesn't buy the explanation that the program was limited to a few "rogue agents." 

Based on his conversation with the Ohio employee, Kookogey said the Cincinnati office was clearly awaiting instructions "from outside." 

His account is among several that challenge the agency's initial narrative that this was the ill-advised work of low-level staffers. Documents obtained by FoxNews.com show that conservative groups were receiving IRS questionnaires from offices in California as well as Washington, D.C. A timeline released by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also claimed that Washington officials were apprised of the program as early as 2010. 

Amid the new revelations, Republicans were calling for additional scrutiny. 

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker reportedly called for a special prosecutor. Sen. Dean Heller announced Tuesday he would oppose funding additional agents who would be used to implement ObamaCare. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and others called for any agents who acted inappropriately to be fired. 

Separately, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would investigate. 

'I'm being targeted because of the content of the speech.'

- Kevin Kookogey, founder of Linchpins of Liberty

Kookogey told FoxNews.com he is looking at possibly testifying before Congress about his experience. 

He claimed that he was never able to convene his board of directors and even lost a $30,000 grant because of the delay from the IRS. He did not provide the name of the group that apparently offered the grant, though the organization currently representing Kookogey supported his story. Kookogey recalled that he finally reached an IRS agent working his case in the Cincinnati office, on Dec. 30, 2011. 

"I had been calling and calling and calling. ... I said, 'why in the world is this taking so long?'" he said. 

Kookogey said he was told: "We have been waiting on guidance from our superiors as to your and similar organizations." 

Kookogey pointed out that his organization is not a Tea Party group and does not have Tea Party in its name, but was singled out anyway. 

"That suggests to me only one thing. I'm being targeted because of the content of the speech," he said. "This is a direct attack against the content of the speech." 

Kookogey is an entertainment lawyer living near Nashville who teaches on the side voluntarily -- he mentors high school and college students, and teaches civics and economic subjects to homeschoolers. He was hoping to turn the Linchpins of Liberty group into a more full-time teaching effort, backed up by funding from donors. He said he would be teaching political philosophy and other subjects that trend conservative -- like the principles of economists Milton Friedman and Adam Smith. 

Kookogey is represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing 26 other groups who petitioned the IRS and received additional scrutiny. 

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel with the ACLJ, told FoxNews.com that the claim this was limited to an Ohio office was "incorrect as a matter of fact." 

"These are not low-level agents," he said, adding that his clients may consider taking the IRS to court and suing for damages. He said his clients had to provide "tens of thousands of pages of documents" to the IRS as they petitioned for tax-exempt status. 

Though the IRS insists this was not a partisan effort, Sekulow disputed that. 

"They didn't go after the progressive organizations," he said. 

He suggested the swift formation of Tea Party groups several years ago "was getting somebody very nervous." 

IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller defended the agency on Tuesday, writing in USA Today that "mistakes were made, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan motivation." 

He explained that the program was started after agents saw a "sharp increase" in applications. 

"There was a shortcut taken in our processes to determine which groups needed additional review. The mistakes we made were due to the absence of a sufficient process for working the increase in cases and a lack of sensitivity to the implications of some of the decisions that were made," he wrote. "We fixed the situation last year, and have made significant progress in moving the centralized cases through our system."