The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the IRS inspector general's report due out this week will reveal that far more conservative groups were targeted for audits than those already known.
The Internal Revenue Service's scrutiny of conservative groups went beyond those with "tea party" or "patriot" in their names--as the agency admitted Friday--to also include ones worried about government spending, debt or taxes, and even ones that lobbied to "make America a better place to live," according to new details of a government probe.
The investigation also revealed that a high-ranking IRS official knew as early as mid-2011 that conservative groups were being inappropriately targeted--nearly a year before then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told a congressional committee the agency wasn't targeting conservative groups.
The new disclosures are likely to inflame a widening controversy over IRS handling of dozens of applications by tea-party, patriot and other conservative groups for tax-exempt status.
The details emerged from disclosures to congressional investigators by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The findings, which were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, don't make clear who came up with the idea to give extra scrutiny to the conservative groups.
The inspector general's office has been conducting an audit of the IRS's handling of the applications process and is expected to release a report this week. The audit follows complaints last year by numerous tea-party and other conservative groups that they had been singled out and subjected to excessive and inappropriate questioning. Many groups say they were asked for lists of their donors and other sensitive information.
On Sunday, a government official said the report will note that IRS officials told investigators that no one outside the IRS was involved in developing the criteria the agency now acknowledges were flawed.
It gets worse. The IRS had actually developed criteria to flag tax exempt applications based on the following:
The report indicates that in 2010 and 2011, some IRS workers weren't just singling out groups because their names contained certain words, as IRS officials suggested on Friday, but appeared to be probing for indications of political interests or leanings.
According to the report, by June 2011 some IRS specialists were probing applications using the following criteria: "issues include government spending, government debt or taxes; education of the public by advocacy/lobbying to 'make America a better place to live'; statements in the case file criticize how the country is being run.
The IG report doesn't tell us whose bright idea this was originally. Nor are there apparently any explanations for why the practice, begun sometime in 2010, continued until June, 2011 - and perhaps beyond - without being discovered by senior management.
Also, when did the White House first find out about the targeting? If it was before last Friday when Lois Lerner first let it drop, the firestorm will intensify - as will calls for President Obama to apologize for the actions of his government. It is unbelievable that the president hasn't stepped forward to say he's sorry one of his government agencies violated the First Amendment rights of American citizens.
There's no bottom to this story yet. Stay tuned.