A government watchdog says FBI documents it has obtained confirm an orchestrated effort by the IRS to target tea party groups.
Judicial Watch obtained 294 pages of FBI documents that reveal top IRS officials knew about the targeting of tea party groups and other conservative groups two years before disclosing it to Congress and the public.
The scandal centers around conservative groups that were seeking non-profit status so they could legally form an organization. Besides tea party groups, hundreds of other groups were flagged, too, including pro-life groups, a conservative Hispanic group, a conservative Hollywood group, pro-Israel groups, and a voting-rights group.
Claims that liberal groups were also targeted was found to be an exaggeration after the IRS inspector general compared the scrutiny and questioning.
Judicial Watch has become a legal nuisance among Washington politicians by utilizing the courts and the Freedom of Information Act, and the watchdog group reported late last month that it had obtained FBI interviews with IRS officials via an FOI request.
The documents are known in the FBI as a "302," a detailed narrative describing an interview.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, says there are interviews of IRS official Lois Lerner, who was largely blamed for the illegal flagging of tea party groups, and Steven Miller, who was acting IRS director.
"And they show that the IRS knew that they had a problem on their hands in 2011 about the targeting," Fitton alleges, citing the documents. "They knew that was happening."
The scandal was first blamed on "rogue agents" in the Cincinnatti office, but that claim was dropped when it became public that high-ranking officials in Washington, D.C. were instructing those agents to flag applications.
Citing one FBI interview with an IRS official, Judicial Watch quoted from that description:
In the 14-month period when [Redacted] had the cases, he would ask for updates on guidance and was told they were still waiting on DC. He recalls receiving emails with contradictory guidance on whether the 501-c-3 or 501-c-4 cases should be denied...Nobody told him directly where the delay was in resolving the Tea Party issue. DC is like a black hole.
The illegal targeting had been happening for approximately three years when it was purposely leaked on May 10, 2013, when Lerner herself (pictured at right) mentioned the topic at an American Bar Association meeting.
The FBI began investigating days later and reported eight months later that no one would be charged.
A detailed timeline of the scandal, compiled by Forbes, can be read here.