I-Team: Emails describe IRS 'criteria' list for targeting tea party groups in Cincinnati office
BOLO list detailed
Jason Law, Jason.Law@wcpo.com
6:41 PM, May 23, 2013
5:28 PM, May 24, 2013
CINCINNATI - The I-Team has obtained emails that appear to show an early "Be On The Lookout" (BOLO) criteria list used by Cincinnati Internal Revenue Service agents to target conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, and also show the IRS watchdog, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), knew about wrongdoing within the IRS as early as July, 2012.
Members of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Wednesday accused TIGTA of dragging its feet releasing information from its year-long audit of the IRS, despite repeated attempts by congressional staffers to set up a meeting.
Committee spokesman Ali Ahmad released the IRS emails, which document an email chain between IRS agents and TIGTA beginning June 1, 2011 and ending May 20, 2013. Portions of the emails are redacted without explanation.
On June 1, 2011, the first email showed "Holly Paz," then IRS Acting Manager of Rulings and Agreements in Washington D.C., wrote to "Brenda Melahn" and "Cindy Thomas." The subject of the email is "group of cases."
"What criteria are being used to label a case a 'Tea Party case'?" Paz asked. "We want to think about whether those criteria are resulting in over-inclusion.
"Lois wants a briefing on these cases. We'll take the lead but would like you to participate. We're aiming for the week of 6/27. Thanks! Holly"
The response from Melahn that same day is blacked out. The following day, June 2, Cindy Thomas writes to "John Shafer" and cc's "Bonnie Esrig" and "Steven F Bowling." The subject of that email is, "Tea Party Cases- NEED CRITERIA" and its importance is marked "High."
"John, Could you send me an email that includes the criteria screeners use to label a case as a 'tea party case?' BOLO spreadsheet includes the following: Organizations involved with Tea Party movement applying for exemption under 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4). Do the applications specify/state "tea party?" If not, how do we know applicant is involved with the tea party movement? I need to forward to Holly per her request below. Thanks," Thomas' email said.
That same day, Shafer, identified in the email as a "Group Manager," sends a response that appears to be a list of approved criteria.
"Cindy, the following are issues that could indicate a case to be considered a potential 'tea party' case and sent to Group 7822 for secondary screening," wrote Shafer. "1. 'Tea Party', 'Patriots' or '9/12 Project' is referenced in the case file. 2. Issues include government spending, government debt and taxes. 3. Educate the public through advocacy/legislative activities to make America a better place to live. 4. Statements in the case file are critical of the how the country is being run."
The next document shows Thomas forwarded Shafer's response to Paz, subject "group of cases."
"The email below from John Shafer, Screening Manager, outlines the criteria the screening group is using to identify cases as 'tea party cases.' This is criteria the screening group came up with based on cases they were seeing. If we don't want the screening group to include all of these type issues as "tea party cases," they would have no problem including or excluding certain cases. However, they need to be given the criteria to use. And, if we don't want certain cases included, then EOD still needs to know how the cases should be processed. I guess what I am trying to say is that it doesn't matter what the cases are called or how they are grouped, EOD needs guidance to ensure consistency.
"Process: When the screening group starts seeing new type cases that have similar issues, they meet and come up with criteria to identify 'emerging issue' and elevate information. 'Emerging issue' cases are sent to Group 7822 (Steve Bowling's group) and we start coordinating with EOT to seek guidance.
"Would you like for me to ask Bonne Esrig, Steve Bowling, Group 7822 Manager, and Ron Bell, agent working "tea party cases" to participate in the briefing with Lois (Lerner, Director of Exempt Organizations Office in Washington D.C.)?
The final emails are dated more than a year later and appear to be forwarded by Thomas and Paz to TIGTA auditors. The subject of the emails is, "TIGTA DOCUMENT REQUEST." There are no words in the body of those emails.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) accused Inspector General J. Russell George of delaying the release of information from his 48-page audit into the IRS.
"You have a responsibility to keep us continuously, and according to the statute, equally informed. In this case, it appears you most certainly did not. Would you agree with that?" Issa asked George Wednesday during a hearing into the ongoing scandal.
"Mr. Chairman," George responded, "there are established procedures for conducting an audit, and once again this is an audit. To ensure fairness and to ensure we are completely accurate with the information that we convey to Congress we will not report information until the IRS has an opportunity to take a look at it to ensure to make sure we're not misstating fact."
Separate emails released this week show committee staffers made attempts to meet with TIGTA auditors Sept. 24, Dec. 18, Feb. 20, Apr. 11 and May 8.