WASHINGTON — 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 seemingly contradicts public statements by the IRS commissioner.
The IRS apologized Friday for what it acknowledged was "inappropriate" targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status. The agency blamed low-level employees, saying no high-level officials were aware.
But on June 29, 2011, Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, learned at a meeting that groups were being targeted, according to the watchdog's report. At the meeting, she was told that groups with "tea party," ''patriot" or "9/12 project" in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny, the report says.
Lerner instructed agents to change the criteria for flagging groups "immediately," the report says.
The Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the results of a nearly yearlong investigation this week. The AP obtained part of the draft report, which has been shared with congressional aides.
On Saturday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement that President Barack Obama is concerned that "a small number" of IRS employees may have fallen short of the high level of integrity expected of public servants.
"We understand that the matter is currently under review by the inspector general," Carney said. "If the inspector general finds that there were any rules broken or that conduct of government officials did not meet the standards required of them, the president expects that swift and appropriate steps will be taken to address any misconduct."
Among the other revelations, on Aug. 4, 2011, staffers in the IRS' Rulings and Agreements office "held a meeting with chief counsel so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue."
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.
While this was happening, several committees in Congress were writing numerous letters to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to express concern because tea party groups were complaining of IRS harassment.
At a congressional hearing March 22, 2012, Shulman was adamant in his denials.
"There's absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people" who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman said at the House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing.
The IRS has not said when Shulman found out that tea party groups were targeted.