Report: Top IRS officials knew of Tea Party targeting two years ago

Senior officials with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) knew the agency was targeting Tea Party groups as early as 2011, according to a report.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that an upcoming report from a federal watchdog will find that top officials were aware of the targeting two years ago.

The report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is slated to be released next week — the AP obtained a draft copy of the report.

According to that draft, the head of the IRS division that overseas tax-exempt groups became aware that conservative groups were being targeted for scrutiny in June, 2011. The report does not say whether Douglas Shulman, IRS commissioner at the time, was aware of it.

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In 2012, Shulman testified before Congress alongside other senior IRS officials, and vowed that the agency was above politics, and was not targeting any groups on a partisan basis. Shulman left the IRS at the end of 2012.

The news comes as the IRS is facing criticism from all sides for a decision to place additional scrutiny on groups that described themselves using the words "tea party" and "patriot." The IRS apologized for the action on Friday, and laid blame for the decision on lower-level employees based in Ohio.

“We made some mistakes,” said Lois Lerner, director of the agency's tax-exempt team. “For that, we apologize.”

Lerner maintained Friday that the decision to carve out groups with Tea Party affiliations for review was not due to partisan motives, but rather a misguided attempt to streamline applications by sorting them into issue groups.

Lerner said the employees behind the decision were "less sensitive than they should have been about the impact this might have."

The apology, which came after Tea Party groups accused the IRS of targeting them, set off a cascade of criticism from Capitol Hill, as well as the White House.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called for a top-to-bottom review by the administration of the federal government to ensure such "thuggish practices" are not in place elsewhere. Top Republicans in the House said they would be independently investigating the matter.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called the action "inappropriate" and said it would be thoroughly investigated by TIGTA. However, he also added that the IRS is an "independent enforcement agency" with only two political appointees at its head.