Targeting from the Top of the IRS
High-ranking IRS lawyers, possibly including an Obama appointee, delayed tea-party applications.


Eliana Johnson

According to Hull, a recently retired lawyer with the Exempt Organizations Technical Unit who was providing guidance to the Cincinnati agent processing tea-party cases, Kindell told him the chief counsel’s office would need to review the applications. That, he said, was unprecedented. It also caused lengthy delays in the processing of tea-party applications during the 2010 election season. The applications elevated to Washington, D.C. were “test” applications whose treatment was to provide guidance for the Cincinnati agents processing the bulk of the tea-party cases; lacking a determination on their status, Cincinnati was unable to process any other tea-party applications while agents there waited for word from Washington.

Though he was instructed to make determinations on the applications, Hull explained, “I couldn’t do it because I had no idea which way we were going.” Elizabeth Hofacre, the Cincinnati agent charged with processing tea-party applications, told investigators, “I never got any feedback from [Hull] at all” during that period. The head of the Determinations Unit in Cincinnati, Cindy Thomas, said that for nearly a year, between October 2010 and September 2011, tea-party applications languished while agents waited for guidance from top lawyers in Washington.

Hull’s superiors, Michael Seto and Ronald Shoemaker, confirmed his account. Seto, the manager of the Exempt Organizations Technical Unit, told investigators that applications were sent to the chief counsel’s office after Lerner “sent me an e-mail saying that . . . these cases need to go through multi-tier review and they will eventually have to go [through her staff] and the chief counsel’s office.” If Seto’s testimony is to be believed, Lerner appears at best to have withheld information from, and at worst to have misled, Congress about her knowledge of the scrutiny to which tea-party applications were being subjected. When the Oversight Committee in March 2012 expressed concern that the organizations were the subject of “heightened scrutiny,” Lerner said only that some applications required “further development” and, in cases with “no established public precedent,” agents sought guidance from lawyers in the Exempt Organizations Technical Unit. She did not tell the committee that her senior adviser and lawyers in the chief counsel’s office had worked to craft guidelines for reviewing the applications about which the committee had inquired.

Though Hull began processing tea-party applications in April 2010, it was not until August 2011 that the chief counsel’s office held a meeting with Hull and Kindell about them. Because the applications had sat dormant for so long, lawyers from the chief counsel’s office indicated they needed updated information from the tea-party groups before they could make a determination. In particular, they sought information about the groups’ political activity “right before the [2010] election period,” according to Hull’s supervisor, Ronald Shoemaker. Shockingly, Shoemaker told investigators that to his knowledge, in the three years since one of the tea-party applications elevated to Washington, D.C., was filed, Kindell and the chief counsel’s office have yet to make a determination on it. “That’s a very long time period,” he said.

Four Republican congressmen disclosed the explosive testimony on Wednesday in a letter to the IRS’s acting administrator, Danny Werfel, who was appointed by President Obama in the wake of the targeting scandal. The disclosures amount to a counterpunch to a 36-page memo from Democratic committee staff released Monday accusing the GOP of engaging in a “sustained and coordinated campaign” to politicize the investigation. Democrats denounced Republicans for alleging that the targeting was politically motivated, calling the allegations “unsubstantiated” and declaring there was “no political motivation or White House involvement in this process.”

Despite the partisan grudge match taking place beneath the surface, we continue, slowly, to get closer to the truth.

— Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review Online.