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Top Democrat Says Evidence Mounting IRS Report Was 'Fundamentally Flawed'

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In a sharply worded letter sent Wednesday to J. Russell George, the Inspector General for Tax Administration, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, wrote that there "is increasing evidence that the May 14, 2013 audit was fundamentally flawed and that your handling of it has failed to meet the necessary test of objectivity and forthrightness."

The letter was sent two days after Levin released fifteen so-called BOLO lists, internal IRS documents used to screen applications from groups seeking tax-exempt status. (BOLO is short for "Be On the Look Out.") The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report released last month -- the one that found that applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups had been inappropriately screened and handled by the IRS -- had indicated that terms like "tea party" and "patriots" had appeared on IRS BOLO lists. On first blush, the appearance that IRS agents were screening groups based on political terms was one of the more troubling findings in the inspector general's report. But the lists released by Levin this week showed that the term "progressives" also appeared on the lists, undercutting any suggestion that the lists were put together for political reasons.

The Inspector General's office has justified leaving "progressives" out of its report by explaining that it was the report answered only the questions it was asked to address. But that answer has not satisfied Levin.

"These new disclosures are not consistent with the description of your audit work in the [Fiscal Year] 2013 Audit Plan that failed to disclose that you were only looking for Tea Party organizations and not all potential political activities," Levin wrote. "They are also not consistent with the stated objective on the first page of the May 14, 2013 audit report. ... There is no mention of your audit being limited to only one political side--Tea Party and conservative organizations."

Levin's letter to George asks how it was possible that "TIGTA was not aware of any BOLOs listing progressive organizations when it conducted its review," as a TIGTA spokesperson told NPR this week.

"Since, the term 'progressive' was included on the BOLOs, please explain to me how it is conceivable that 'investigators were not aware of any BOLOs listing progressive organizations when conducting the review' as stated above," Levin wrote.

Earlier this week, Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee released a document pushing back on the notion that the inclusion of "progressives" on the BOLO lists undercuts the scandal. While it has now been demonstrated that progressives were on the BOLO lists, conservative groups were subject to other inappropriate treatment from the IRS.

About The Author

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Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website?s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl@talkingpointsmemo.com