Report: IRS Lawyer Who Oversaw Tea-Party Targeting Said to Be Retiring

by Eliana Johnson

A tax law specialist and attorney who processed tea-party cases in the Internal Revenue Service’s Exempt Organization’s Technical Office is retiring, according to an IRS source. Reached over the phone, the lawyer, Carter Hull, would not confirm or deny the report, saying only, “I cannot verify anything about this entire matter.” Hull’s retirement comes after years of service in the Exempt Organization, where he has served ”for decades,” the source tells National Review Online

Elizabeth Hofacre, an employee in the IRS’s Cincinnatti office, charged Hull with micromanaging her work from Washington in her interview with congressional staff. Hofacre, who in April 2010 began managing the Cincinnati group that processed tea-party applications, told the House Oversight Committee, “I had no autonomy or no authority to act on [applications] without Carter Hull’s influence or input.”

Hull was not acting alone, although sources say he was the first to begin handling tea-party applications in Washington in March 2010. His colleagues in the Technical Unit were also involved in guiding the Cincinnati office. Hull reported to Michael Seto, the manager of the Exempt Organizations’ Technical Office, where some 40 lawyers offered advice to IRS agents across the country. Though not all of those lawyers worked on the tea-party cases, a handful certainly did. Expressing frustration about Washington’s oversight of her work, Hofacre told the committee, “I was taking all my direction from EO Technical.” National Review Online reported on the nature of that direction: the IRS’s Technical Unit in Washington provided guidance on handling the applications of tea party groups, approved many of the questionnaires that went out to them, and even wrote some of the intrusive questions that have become the subject of so much controversy.

The Technical Unit was also the source of the delays reported by so many tea-party groups. According to the inspector general’s report tea-party applications languished while Cincinnati agents waited for Washington lawyers to provide guidance. At one point, Hofacre’s team of specalists “did not work on the cases while waiting for guidance from the Technical Unit.”

Hull’s involvement in the processing of tea-party applications paints a more vivid picture of how the targeting and processing of the applications of tea party and other conservative groups for tax exemption worked, and suggests the heart of the effort lay in Washington, D.C.

Another Cincinnati employee, Gary Muthert, charged with screening tea-party applications and passing them to specialists for further examination, told investigators that he began searching for tea-party applications because a supervisor told him that “Washington, D.C. wanted some cases.” He passed along seven, including two specifically requested by somebody in the Washington office.

The testimonies of Hofacre and Muthert belie the explanations offered by IRS officials and the inspector general himself, who suggested that the targeting of tea-party groups began when a couple of rogue employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office attempted to streamline their work.

Lois Lerner, the director of exempt organizations currently on paid leave after refusing to resign her post, blamed “line people in Cincinnati”; Joseph Grant, the commissioner of the Tax Exempt and Government Entitites division, pinned the malfeasance on “front-line career employees” acting out of “a desire for efficiency”; inspector general J. Russell George pointed the finger at “first-line management in Cincinnati.”

Democratic lawmakers have sounded the same notes. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, claimed that “no witnesses who have appeared before the Committee have identified any IRS official in Washington, D.C. who directed employees in Cincinnati to use ‘tea party’ or similar terms to screen applicants for extra scrutiny,” while former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod noted “we have a large government” and fingered “some folks down in the bureaucracy.”

Yet, the one official who has taken the fall for this scandal is Lois Lerner, who was based in Washington, D.C., and served in a position just three levels removed from the IRS’s top dog. If Hull is retiring, yet another Washington official is leaving amid the roiling scandal. The explanations offered by the IRS and the Democrats appear more dubious by the day.