WASHINGTON – Testifying on Capitol Hill, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. promised a thorough criminal investigation of the targeting of conservative organizations by the IRS that will look at potential civil rights violations and false statements that may have broken the law.
Holder said the probe would be spearheaded by FBI agents and federal prosecutors headquartered in Washington and would go far beyond the Cincinnati office, which top IRS officials have blamed for missteps that caused conservative groups applying for tax exempt status to be singled out for extra scrutiny that included intrusive questions the tax agency now says were inappropriate.
Most important, he said, “if we have to bring criminal actions to make sure this kind of activity does not happen again,” the Justice Department will do that.
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Holder did not name any targets in the investigation. Former Commissioner Doug Shulman testified before Congress in March 2012 that the IRS was not targeting conservative groups. The IRS said he was not aware of the targeting, even though other officials were at the time. The current acting commissioner, Steve Miller, testified in July 2012. He had been briefed on the issue two months before.
Appearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Holder took questions from Republican and Democratic lawmakers equally upset about the allegations that tea party groups and other conservative organizations were selected for special scrutiny. Their applications, in some cases, have been delayed for more than three years.
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), whose district includes Cincinnati, urged Holder and the Department of Justice to look past the IRS branch office in his hometown where the allegations first surfaced. “Was it just low-level workers there?” he asked.
Holder said, “The facts will take us wherever they take us. It will not be just one city. This is something that we are basing in Washington and that may have a bigger impact nationwide.”
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He said federal law enforcement officials initially will be looking at whether there were systemic “enforcement gaps” in IRS policy that were soft on some political organizations but harder on others.
“The Justice Department needs to get ahead of this matter,” Holder said. “This will not be about parties. This will not be about party ideology. Anyone who has broken the law will be held accountable.”
Holder further pledged to see that out-of-pocket costs can be reimbursed to any conservative groups who hired attorneys or other representatives to defend them in the controversy.
“I know in other instances where someone is prosecuted in a criminal case and is acquitted, they can get their costs back,” he said.
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