(Adds portions of interviews starting in fourth paragraph.)
By Richard Rubin
June 12 (Bloomberg) -- The Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of small-government groups didn’t begin in the Cincinnati office that examines applications for tax-exempt status, said Representative Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“We know it didn’t originate in Cincinnati,” Camp, a Michigan Republican, told reporters today in Washington, citing interviews that committee staff members conducted with IRS employees.
Camp’s comments contradict excerpts of interviews released by Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Cummings has cited the comments of a self-declared “conservative Republican” IRS manager in Cincinnati, who said one of his employees identified the first Tea Party case and flagged it for further attention.
At the same time, those transcripts and others released by Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the oversight committee, show that IRS lawyers in Washington were involved soon afterward.
The effort was concentrated on Tea Party groups in the beginning, according to transcripts reviewed last week by Bloomberg News. In addition to putting Democratic-leaning organizations’ applications back in the general pile, the IRS didn’t give extra scrutiny to groups identified as conservative.
“It was more narrow than that,” said Elizabeth Hofacre, who handled the first batch of cases, according to an interview transcript. “It was Tea Party.”
The initial scrutiny of Tea Party groups eventually became a broader effort that delayed the applications of many politically oriented nonprofit groups and subjected them to what the IRS later deemed inappropriate questions.
The criteria was broadened in 2011 and 2012 when the IRS looked at groups based on other criteria, such as whether they focused on government spending and debt.
The controversy has prompted six congressional inquiries and a criminal probe by the Justice Department. At least four IRS executives have left their jobs.
Hofacre said in the interview with congressional investigators that her actions were guided by IRS lawyers in Washington, who she said were slow to approve questions to be sent to groups that would allow her to process applications.
“You are getting calls from irate taxpayers,” said Hofacre, who has worked for the IRS since 1999. “And I see their point. Even if a decision isn’t favorable, they deserve some kind of treatment and they deserve, you know, timeliness.”
Camp, who is also looking at audits of donors and disclosures of confidential information, said his committee’s investigation is far from over.
“We’re not anywhere near being able to jump to conclusions,” Camp said.