BRADENTON – A House investigation into the IRS's targeting of Tea Party groups for heightened scrutiny when seeking tax exempt status, has discovered that the problem was not as localized as officials initially indicated. Lois Lerner, Director of the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations Division, was put on paid administrative leave this week, when she refused to resign. After pleading the fifth during hearings, Lerner is now seeking immunity for her testimony.
Lerner was the IRS official who revealed that agents in the IRS’s tax-exempt unit in Cincinnati had improperly scrutinized applications from dozens of conservative groups. The disclosure was made in response to a question during a May 10 American Bar Association conference in Washington. It now appears that question may have been planted by Lerner to allow her to make the disclosure ahead of an IG report on the subject.
On Wednesday, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right to avoid testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Lerner had originally said that "line people in Cincinnati" were responsible for the increased scrutiny and asked questions that "weren't really necessary," operating above "the appropriate level of sensitivity." She claimed that the targeting was "not intentional."
When House investigators talked to employees in the Cincinnati office, they claimed that everything they did on the matter came from Washington directives. Elizabeth Hofacre, the agent in charge of processing Tea Party applications in Cincinnati, told the investigators that her work was overseen and directed by Carter Hull, an attorney in the IRS Washington office.
Hull told investigators that Tea Party applications under his review were sent up the ladder yet again, and that this was done at the direction of Lois Lerner. Michael Seto, the agent in charge of Hull's unit, also told investigators that Lerner herself made the decision to put Tea Party applications under additional scrutiny.
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