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IRS Investigation Getting Dangerous For Senate Dem Carl Levin

Democrats Barack Obama and Carl Levin

The IRS inspector general, who uncovered key parts of the IRS tea party targeting scandal, is coming under fire from a surprising source; Michigan’s retiring Democratic Senator Carl Levin.

Levin, who chairs the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the Senate’s version of Rep. Darrell Issa’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on Friday released a 224-page report suggesting that the IRS improperly treated both liberal and conservative groups applying for tax exemptions while criticizing the May 2013 report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration for focusing only on the scrutiny given to tea party groups.

This is interesting and important for a number of reasons.

First, because new documents obtained by Judicial Watch reveal that 75% of the groups from whom the IRS inappropriately demanded donor lists were apparently conservative, with only 5% being liberal and the rest being not politically identifiable on their face.

But even more importantly, because the IRS’ Washington, D.C. headquarters targeted conservative groups in part due to pressure from Senator Levin himself, according to emails obtained by Judicial Watch.

Back in May, Judicial Watch released a batch of documents revealing that, contrary to claims by Lois Lerner and other top IRS officials, the handling of Tea Party applications was directed out of the agency’s Washington, DC, headquarters, rather than by a few “rogue employees” in Cincinnati.

Those documents showed extensive pressure on the IRS by Senator Levin to shut down conservative-leaning tax-exempt organizations. And they contain IRS emails directly contradicting Lerner’s misleading explanations to investigators about the targeting of Tea Party organizations.  (Uncovered for the first time, we might add, by Judicial Watch.) 

Back in May a lot of the media attention focused on the fact that the emails put to rest any doubt that Lerner’s initial explanations about how the IRS targeting of Tea Party organizations came about was a total lie.

But now that Levin’s Subcommittee has jumped into the fray it is worth going back and looking at Levin’s involvement in setting the targeting in motion.

The documents Judicial Watch obtained also include a chilling series of letters between Senator Levin (D-MI), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations, and top IRS officials throughout 2012 discuss how to target conservative groups the senator claimed were “engaged in political activities.” In response to a March 30 Levin letter citing the “urgency of the issue,” then-Deputy Commissioner Steven Miller assures the senator that IRS regulations were flexible enough to allow IRS agents to “prepare individualized questions and requests” for select 501(c)(4) organizations – that is, conservative groups. The “urgency” was clearly the upcoming Obama re-election campaign.

The IRS documents Judicial Watch released in May contain several letters and emails revealing an almost pathological obsession by Levin and IRS officials with determining what, if any, existing IRS policies could be used to revoke the nonprofit exemptions of active conservative groups and deny exemptions to new applicants. In a July 30, 2012, letter, Levin singles out 12 groups he wants investigated for “political activity.” Of the groups – which include the Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform, the 60 Plus Association, and the Susan B. Anthony List – only one, Priorities USA, is notably left-leaning.

As the 2012 presidential election drew nearer, Levin sent a series of letters to the IRS intensifying his campaign against predominantly conservative nonprofit groups:

 September 27, 2012: Levin asks for copies of the answers to IRS exemption application question 15 – a question about planned political expenditures – from four specific groups: Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, Priorities USA, Americans for Prosperity, and Patriot Majority USA.

 October 17, 2012: Miller informs Levin, “As discussed in our previous responses dated June 4, 2012, and August 24, 2012, the IRS cannot legally disclose whether the organizations on your list have applied for tax exemptions unless and until such application is approved.” Miller, however, then informs Levin that Americans for Prosperity and Patriot Majority have been approved, but the IRS has no records for Crossroads and Priorities USA.

 October 23, 2012: Levin writes to again express his dissatisfaction with the IRS handling of “social welfare” (501(c)(4) organizations insisting that IRS guidance “misinterprets the law” by allowing any political activity. He again demands an answer as to whether the four organizations he listed in his previous letter were primarily engaged in the promotion of social welfare. He also seeks copies of tax exempt revocation letters sent due to c4 political activities, as well as statistics on how many c4s have been notified that they may be in violation due to political activities.

In perhaps the most revealing letter from the IRS to Levin, Miller on June 4, 2012, takes 16 pages to carefully outline for Levin what IRS regulations and policies may and may not be used to evaluate political groups – and assures him that the agency has considerable leeway in picking and choosing which groups the IRS could subject to additional scrutiny by tailoring its investigations:

"There is no standard questionnaire used to obtain information about political activities. Although there is a template development letter that describes the general information on the case development process, the letter does not specify the information to be requested from any particular organization . . . Consequently, revenue agents prepare individualized questions and requests for documents relevant to the application. . ."

As our friend Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch said back in May, “Let me make it clear: These new documents show conclusively that officials in the Washington IRS headquarters were responsible for the illegal delays of Tea Party applications. And they also confirm the unprecedented pressure from congressional Democrats to go after President Obama’s political opponents.”

Little wonder that Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin is trying to obfuscate the facts in the IRS targeting scandal – he was one of the prime motivators of the agency’s illegal targeting of Tea Party and conservative organizations and it looks like he is now trying to cover his tracks.

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