By Patrick Temple-West
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Republican lawmakers on Tuesday demanded that an Internal Revenue Service official who triggered investigations into the tax agency's scrutiny of conservative political groups turn over personal emails.
Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS tax-exempt division, apologized in May for the extra review given to Tea Party and other conservative groups seeking exemptions under a section of the tax code that allows limited political activity.
In a letter to Lerner, the Republicans said they had concerns about some emails she had sent from her IRS account to a personal account.
Those transfers could indicate that she had sent IRS documents to an outside email address, adding a hurdle to the investigations, said Representatives Darrell Issa and Jim Jordan.
The two are leading a probe into the matter for the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Lerner is on administrative leave from the agency. Her lawyer did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
An IRS inspector general's report in May found agency employees improperly screened tax-exemption applications from conservative groups based on their names, using "Tea Party," "Patriot" and other key words as criteria.
Democratic President Barack Obama asked then-acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller to resign in the days after the disclosure, and the FBI opened an investigation.
On Monday Republicans accused the IRS of continuing to screen applications from Tea Party groups based on their names. The IRS, which said in June it had stopped such activities, disputed the allegations.
"The IRS has taken decisive action to eliminate the use of inappropriate political labels in screening tax-exempt status applications," the agency said in a statement on Tuesday.
Republicans are using the affair to try "to smear the White House," said Democratic Representatives Elijah Cummings and Sander Levin in a column in The Washington Post on Tuesday.
Chris Krueger, an analyst who tracks Washington politics for Guggenheim Securities, said Republicans will work to prolong the controversy and try to link it to the IRS' role in implementing Obama's healthcare insurance program.
The Senate will soon hold a confirmation hearing for Obama's nominee to head the IRS, John Koskinen. That hearing will be "a grand stage" for Republicans to revisit the matter, Krueger said.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Xavier Briand)