Leah Barkoukis
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The IRS “apologized” on Friday for flagging conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election cycle. IRS official Lois Lerner insisted, however, that the practice of singling out organizations with the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications was not politically motivated. She also said the “inappropriate” practice was initiated by “low-level” workers in Cincinnati, Ohio, unbeknownst to high-level officials. Yeah, or not:

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.

There’s more:

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 IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to express concern because tea party groups were complaining of IRS harassment.

In Shulman's responses, he did not acknowledge targeting of tea party groups. 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.

Sen. Orrin Hatch suspects there are whistleblowers ready to come forward, which is why the IRS came out with this now. But the “apology” also came just days before an investigative report on the issue is expected from the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration. House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa issued the request last year after conservative groups complained of IRS harassment. Issa and Rep. Jim Jordan on Friday called the practice of targeting Americans because of their political beliefs “unconscionable” and said the Committee will “aggressively follow up on the IG report and hold responsible officials accountable for this political retaliation.”

After all, an apology won't make an issue of this magnitude just go away. As ABC's Terry Moran noted on Twitter, this is "truly a Nixonian abuse of power by the Obama administration." Ed Morrissey over at Hot Air adds to that point

Update: How big of a deal is abusing the tax system to gain an advantage over the political opposition? Don’t forget that it was one of the charges in the Watergate articles of impeachment:

Article 2

Using the powers of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposed of these agencies.

This conduct has included one or more of the following:

1.  He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavoured to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposed not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be intitiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.

That doesn’t make Obama guilty of the actions, but it does demonstrate the seriousness of the violation — and the fact that the Obama administration tried to shortstop the IG report with yesterday’s dog-and-pony show also demonstrates just how bad they know this will be.


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Leah Barkoukis

Leah Barkoukis is the Assistant Editor at Townhall.com/Townhall Magazine.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography