The IRS did not just target Tea Party groups in 2010 — newly obtained documents show it targeted groups with the words "Occupy" and "Progressive," too. That means that while the IRS's scrutiny of groups seeking non-profit status was inappropriate, it was not political. It was not a case of President Obama directing — explicitly or implicitly — the IRS to silence conservative critics. It was a case of the IRS targeting SEO keywords — the stuff people were talking about on political blogs.
Here's how an IRS BOLO spreadsheet justifies why one liberal group was targeted: "Common thread is the word 'progressive'. Activities appear to lean toward a new political party. Activities are partisan and appear as anti-Republican. You see references to 'blue' as being 'progressive.'" Targeted for being "anti-Republican"? That doesn't sound like Chicago-style politics. Another spreadsheet cell says, "Look for cases involving Medical Marijuana." The Atlantic Wire's Philip Bump noted there was a hint this might be the case during a congressional hearing in May, when Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George was asked if something like "MoveOn" might have been on a BOLO list, and he responded, "I'm not in a position to give you a definitive response on that at this time."
Danny Werfel told reporters on Monday that after becoming acting IRS director in May, he found many improper words on the IRS's screening criteria. He admitted the targeting lasted even longer than previously known — till May 2012. "We have not found evidence of intentional wrongdoing by anyone in the IRS or involvement in these matters by anyone outside the IRS," Werfel said. That means the Obama White House did not launch a campaign to silence the Tea Party or their hippie counterparts at Occupy Wall Street.
Some Republican lawmakers will have a hard time believing this. They've said that despite evidence, it must be the case that the White House spurred the IRS to action. House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa told CNN earlier this month, "As you know as late as last week the administration is still trying to say there's a few rogue agents in Cincinnati when in fact the indication is they were directly being ordered from Washington." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week, "Now we have an administration that’s desperately trying to prove that nobody at the top was involved in any of this stuff, even as they hope that the media loses interest in this scandal and moves on." New York's Jonathan Chait argued:
Got that? Before Republicans were going to prove that Obama’s administration was involved. All of the evidence suggests it wasn’t. So now McConnell is framing the question as Obama trying to prove he wasn’t involved. Which, of course, he can’t. For that matter, McConnell can’t prove that he didn’t mastermind the IRS. You can’t prove a negative.
But Monday's report does destroy a core part of McConnell's case — there is evidence disproving the theory that the IRS was on a campaign to silence Obama's conservative critics.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.