Internal Revenue Service Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner listens during testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee May 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Despite the Obama administration's claims to the contrary, requests for information on conservative groups did not originate in the IRS' Cincinnati office alone, attorneys representing some of the targeted organizations told NBC News. Those claims bolster a report from TheBlaze on May 17.
Information requests, often with the signatures of high-ranking agency officials, reportedly extended beyond a few rogue agents in a single city and at least one letter contains the signature of Lois Lerner, the suspended director of the IRS Exempt Organizations department in Washington. NBC News reportedly reviewed some of the letters in question.
Nearly two weeks ago TheBlaze published a letter containing Lerner's signature in a story asking, "Do These Letters Show the IRS Lied About Upper Management Not Knowing About ‘Targeting?’":
In a recent report, the IRS Inspector General fingered a few low-level staffers from the Cincinnati office as the individuals responsible for unfairly targeting conservative groups. Now that account is being challenged.
More from the NBC report:
Jay Sekulow, an attorney representing 27 conservative political advocacy organizations that applied to the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt status, provided some of the letters to NBC News. He said the groups’ contacts with the IRS prove that the practices went beyond a few “front line” employees in the Cincinnati office, as the IRS has maintained.
“We've dealt with 15 agents, including tax law specialists -- that's lawyers -- from four different offices, including (the) Treasury (Department) in Washington, D.C.,” Sekulow said. “So the idea that this is a couple of rogue agents in Cincinnati is not correct.”
Among the letters were several that bore return IRS addresses other than Cincinnati, including IRS headquarters in Washington, and the signatures of IRS officials higher up the chain. Lerner’s signature, which appeared to be a stamp rather than an actual signature, appeared on a letter requesting additional information from the Ohio Liberty Council Corp.
One of the letters Sekulow provided to NBC showed the IRS was still asking intrusive questions as recently as May 6 of this year. That letter requested the group Linchpins of Liberty provide copies of all newsletters ever published, among other things:
Additionally, ex-Cincinnati official Bonnie Esrig last week expressed serious doubts to NBC News about the claim that low-level employees acted on their own without approval from superiors. She also said she doesn't believe there was any political motivation behind the targeting of conservative organizations.
Lerner, one of the key figures in the investigation, was placed on administrative leave with pay last week after reportedly refusing to resign. Prior to that, she pleaded the Fifth and refused to answer Congress' questions about the IRS scandal.
Sekulow told NBC News he believes the IRS was engaged in a coordinated and deliberate attempt to intimidate conservative groups.
The White House has denied that it was aware of the targeting, claiming that President Barack Obama learned of the scandal from news reports on May 10.
This story has been updated. Featured image via AFP/Getty