More Information Emerges About IRS Targeting Of Tea Party Groups

Selective leaks from Congressional staff interviews with IRS employees in Cincinnati have been dribbling out for weeks. The workers are at the center of questions regarding the use of "Tea Party" and "Patriot" labels for flagging tax exemptions applications for additional scrutiny.

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Last month, when news broke that the IRS had improperly targeted Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny, the original message from the IRS was that it was the work of a couple of rogue agents in the Cincinnati field office. Congressional investigators have been talking to those employees and generating hundreds of pages of transcripts.

Well, today, NPR's Tamara Keith was able to look at the full transcripts of interviews with two IRS agents. And they appear to dispute that rogue agent description. Tamara joins us now from Capitol Hill. And tell us more about what exactly you got to read today.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: So we got to read the full transcripts, a total of 360 pages of two interviews with agents in the Cincinnati office. These were interviews with congressional investigators.

You know, so far, we've seen snippets that have been released by Democrats and Republicans. And these snippets sort of fit the politics of what they were trying to show.

These transcripts are the full transcripts. And in some ways, they're more nuanced. They're also, in some ways, more mundane. You know, we get a lot of information about computer systems and things like that. But we do get a full view of at least what these two employees feel happened.

BLOCK: Well, this scandal has been very political all the way through. Based on what you saw in this more nuanced view, what are the conclusions that you're able to draw?

KEITH: You know, and these really are just from two people. But I think that it's pretty safe to say that at least as far as these people are concerned, the targeting of Tea Party groups had nothing to do with their own ideology or political leanings. One employee, Gary Muthert, says he didn't even know what the Tea Party was. He says he still doesn't know what the Tea Party is. And...

BLOCK: Really?

KEITH: Yeah. Amazingly. And he describes himself as apolitical. He's sort of a very technical guy. His manager asked him to search for applications from Tea Party groups, so he talked about going into the system and doing some searches. And, you know, well, how do I find Tea Party? So he came up with some search terms. He searched Tea Party, then he thought, oh, maybe Patriot 9/12, and then he passed those cases along, you know, sort of following orders.

There's a second employee, Elizabeth Hofacre who, for six months, worked on these Tea Party cases. And she was actually working with a tax law specialist in Washington, D.C., and she talks about being frustrated about how long it took him to respond. She says that she was, quote, "being micromanaged to death," and she ultimately left the position because of her frustration.

BLOCK: Well, there hasn't been a congressional hearing on this issue in a couple of weeks, Tam. What happens next?

KEITH: I think that there are going to be more of these closed-door interviews with bipartisan staff. They're sort of working their way up the food chain. There was an interview today with that lawyer who Elizabeth Hofacre was working with. They're sort of working their way up, trying to figure out how far this leads. But right now, I haven't - in anything I've read - seen any smoking guns that lead to the White House, not even thus far to the Treasury Department, sort of to mid-level people at IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Tamara Keith on Capitol Hill. Tamara, thanks.

KEITH: Thank you.

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