How might you feel if you had performed, with your bosses’ permission and direction, a project that they later blamed on you and publicly denounced as a rogue operation?
That’s the situation in which some employees of the Cincinnati’s IRS office find themselves. The IRS and the Obama administration have repeatedly said that low-level, “rogue” employees in Cincinnati were to blame for the agency’s inappropriate targeting of conservative groups, despite an array of evidence to the contrary. As a result, those Cincinnati employees are understandably miffed.
Several IRS employees in the Cincinnati field office acknowledge in recent interviews with the House Oversight Committee that they’re not happy with the excuse.
“I still hear people saying we were low-level employees, so we were lower than dirt, according to people in D.C.,” one employee told the committee. “So, take it for what it is. They were basically throwing us underneath the bus.”
The same employee, when asked about former acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller’s claim that the scandal was the result of two “rogue” agents’ “overly aggressive” handling of conservative nonprofit cases, said that explanation was “impossible.”
“As an agent, we are controlled by many, many people. We have to submit many, many reports. So the chance of two agents being rogue and doing things like that could never happen,” the employee said.
Another, more senior employee in the Cincinnati office said she was so fed up with “micromanagement” from IRS officials in Washington that she applied for another job in July 2010, several months after the targeting began. “It was the micromanagement,” the employee explained. “The subject area was extremely sensitive and it was something that I didn’t want to be associated with.”
The employee said she was aware of the “inappropriateness” of “not processing these applications [from conservative groups] fairly and timely” in 2010, and seemed baffled at the official explanations coming out of Washington. “I mean, rogue agent?” the employee said. “Even though I was taking all my direction from [the Exempt Organizations Technical Division in Washington, D.C.],” she said. “I didn’t want my name in the paper for being this rogue agent for a project I had no control over.”
An IRS employee in Cincinnati tells National Review Online there “absolutely” is anger in the Ohio office aimed at superiors in Washington — individuals such as Lois Lerner, the embattled director of Exempt Organizations who has been placed on administrative leave, and Holly Paz, the Rulings and Agreements director who donated $2,000 to Obama in 2008. Paz sat in on many of the inspector general’s interviews with Cincinnati employees, which could explain why they were reluctant to identify who ordered them to target conservatives.
Lerner, who recently invoked her Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify before the House Oversight Committee, preemptively broke the news of the inspector general’s report on May 10, when she responded to a planted question from a D.C. tax lobbyist. Then, Lerner indicated that “our line people in Cincinnati” were responsible for the targeting, despite the fact that her signature appears on at least 15 official requests for information sent to conservative groups.
The IRS source says that employees are “especially” annoyed with Cindy Thomas, a manager in the determinations unit. “She’s a micromanager,” the source says. “She doesn’t defend her employees at all. She and Lois Lerner are — were — good buddies. [This is] part of the reason the [Treasury inspector general] labeled it gross mismanagement.”
Thomas’s name appears in a series of June 2011 e-mails obtained by the House Oversight Committee in which she and Paz discuss the handling of “tea party cases,” as well as Lerner’s interest in the matter. In one e-mail, Thomas asked employees in the Cincinnati office to explain the criteria being used to identify a “tea party case.” “Do the applications specify/state ‘tea party?’ If not, how do we know [the] applicant is involved with the tea party movement?” Thomas wrote, after being informed that Lerner wanted a “a briefing on these cases.”
The employees’ statements are yet another indication that the Obama administration has been, at best, misleading in its response to the IRS scandal. White House press secretary Jay Carney has, on several occasions, referred to the scandal as the “activity in Cincinnati” and “the apparent conduct by our IRS officials in Cincinnati.” However, even the audit report from Treasury inspector general J. Russell George explicitly discusses the involvement of the Washington-based EO Technical Unit in “reviewing” the information requests sent to conservative groups applying for nonprofit status.
The inspector general’s report cited “ineffective management” as a factor in the targeting scandal, but did not find direct evidence of political motivation or outside influence. However, the inspector general has repeatedly emphasized that many questions remain unanswered and that his findings are merely preliminary.
As Congress continues its investigation, the focus has shifted toward officials in Washington, including IRS chief counsel William J. Wilkins and his two deputies. With so many questions surrounding the scandal yet to be answered, the administration had better get its story straight — and so far, their claims of an isolated scandal haven’t squared with the facts.
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.