Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Douglas Shulman testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, before the House Oversight Committee. Credit: AP
WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) -- Senior Internal Revenue Service officials knew agents were targeting Tea Party groups as early as 2011, according to a draft of an inspector general's report obtained by The Associated Press that contradicts public statements by the IRS commissioner.
On Friday, the IRS apologized for the "inappropriate" targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election, singling out about 75 organizations that included the words ‘‘Tea Party’’ or ‘‘patriot’’ in their exemption applications.
Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, said the practice was initiated by "low-level" workers in Cincinnati and that no high-level officials were aware. She also said it was not motivated by political bias.
But the report claims that Lerner was aware of the targeting as early as June 29, 2011, where she was told at a meeting that groups with "Tea Party," "Patriot" or "9/12 Project" in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny. The government agency even sought information about their family members, details of their postings on social media, and the identities of their donors.
Lerner instructed agents to change the criteria for flagging groups "immediately," the report adds.
On Jan, 25, 2012, the criteria for flagging suspect groups was changed to "political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement," the report says.
The new disclosure also contradicts public statements by former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, who repeatedly and unequivocally assured Congress that conservative groups were not being targeted.
‘‘There’s absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people’’ who apply for tax-exempt status, he told a House Ways and Means subcommittee in March.
The report does not specify whether Shulman was informed of the targeting, but it is standard procedure for agency heads to consult with staff before responding to congressional inquiries.
Shulman's 6-year term ended in November, and President Barack Obama has yet to nominate a successor. The agency is now run by an acting commissioner, Steven Miller.
The IRS released a statement Saturday saying the report's timeline is correct, but that it doesn't contradict the commissioner's testimony.
"IRS senior leadership was not aware of this level of specific details at the time of the March 2012 hearing," the statement explains. "The timeline does not contradict the commissioner's testimony. While exempt organizations officials knew of the situation earlier, the timeline reflects that IRS senior leadership did not have this level of detail."
Lerner's position is three levels below the commissioner.
"The timeline supports what the IRS acknowledged on Friday that mistakes were made," the statement continues. "There were not partisan reasons behind this."
The Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the results of a nearly yearlong investigation in the coming week. The AP obtained part of the draft report, which has been shared with congressional aides.
The IRS is an independent agency within the Treasury Department that enforces the nation's tax laws. Revelations that the agency was targeting political groups because they were affiliated with a movement that is critical of President Barack Obama will likely become a new headache for the White House.
Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee's oversight subcommittee, said the report "raises serious questions as to who at IRS, Treasury and in the administration knew about this, why this practice was allowed to continue for as long as it did, and how widespread it was."
"This timeline reveals at least two extremely unethical actions by the IRS. One, as early as 2010, they targeted groups for political purposes. Two, they willfully and knowingly lied to Congress for years despite being aware that Congress was investigating this practice," Boustany said.
"This is an outrageous abuse of power. Going after organizations for referencing the Bill of Rights or expressing the intent to make this country a better place is repugnant," Boustany added. "There is no excuse for this behavior."
This post has been updated to include the IRS' response.