IRS Targeting Extended to Conservative, Republican Groups, According to Agency Employee

by Eliana Johnson

An Internal Revenue Service employee based in the agency’s Cincinnati office told the House Oversight Committee that the targeting of tea-party groups for inappropriate scrutiny was intended also to extend to conservative and Republican groups more broadly.

“Was it your understanding that the purpose of the Be On the Lookout list was to identify conservative groups?” committee inevestigators asked the employee, according to a partial transcript of their interview with the witness released by the Oversight Committee on Sunday. “Yes, it was,” the employee responded. The “Be On the Lookout” list helped IRS agents identify which applications for tax exemption received heightened scrutiny. Asked whether the list, which contained key words used to identify tea-party groups, was also intended to flag Republican groups, the employee said that it was. 

A more junior Cincinnati agent also told committee investigators that he believes the order to target tea-party groups came from the agency’s Washington, D.C., office, and that it was “impossible” for the targeting of tea-party groups to have originated with a few rogue agents in the IRS’s Cincinnati office, as the agency and the Obama administration have claimed. He went on to describe how the agency’s Washington office requested the files of specific tea-party groups that contained their applications for tax exemption.

The testimony offered by the two IRS employees corroborates National Review Online’s report that IRS’s D.C. office was closely involved in the targeting of conservative groups from the outset. It also suggests that the intrusive questions and inappropriate requests received by some pro-life groups — most notably, the Coalition of Life for Iowa, which an IRS agent reportedly asked to pledge not to protest outside of Planned Parenthood in exchange for granting its tax exemption — may have been a part of the same effort. 

One of the employees interviewed told committee investigators that he began searching for another job in July 2010 because he was uncomfortable with singling out groups based on their political views. “It was something that I didn’t want to be associated with,” he said.