IRS: Chief counsel didn't learn of Tea Party targeting until 2013

The IRS said Wednesday that its chief counsel did not participate in an August 2011 meeting on the agency’s treatment of groups seeking tax-exempt status.

A new report from Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration says that staffers met with the chief counsel, just over a month after a separate official told employees to stop flagging cases based on names like “Tea Party” and “patriots.”

In a statement, the IRS said that the chief counsel, William Wilkins, was not involved in overseeing applications for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status, and that Wilkins “did not learn about specific groups being singled out by name until earlier this year.”

The August 2011 meeting, the IRS added, “involved staff attorneys several layers below Wilkins,” and the chief counsel did not discuss tax-exempt applications with Treasury’s general counsel.

As the IRS’s lead lawyer, Wilkins sits in one of only two presidential appointees at the agency. The president also appoints the IRS commissioner.

The chief counsel’s office also contains some 1,600 lawyers, the statement said, and reference to “chief counsel” could mean that an IRS staffer talked to any of those attorneys – and not necessarily Wilkins.

White House officials have stressed that the president and West Wing officials had no involvement in the IRS targeting of conservative groups.

The Treasury inspector general report found that inefficient management at the IRS played a role in allowing the agency to request unnecessary information and to use inappropriate criteria to single out groups seeking tax-exempt status.