A staff memo released earlier this week by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee provides an "interim update" on the investigation of the IRS scandal. A central finding: "Media attention caused the IRS to treat conservative-oriented tax-exempt applications differently" from liberal or progressive ones.
The memo presents no evidence that the White House directly ordered the IRS to crack down on political opponents. Instead, it is consistent with the theory, described here in May, that IRS personnel responded to "dog whistles" (in Peggy Noonan's metaphor) in public statements from the president and his supporters.
In a passage we've annotated with links, the memo describes the media "drumbeat" in early 2010, when the IRS first began turning its attention to the Tea Party:
Washington Post columnists accused Tea Party groups of "smolder[ing] with anger" [Colbert King] and practicing a brand of patriotism reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan [Courtland Milloy]. Another Post columnist opined in late March 2010 that Tea Party rhetoric "is calibrated not to inform but to incite" [Eugene Robinson]. In April 2010, Reuters tied the Tea Party movement to "America's season of rage and fear."Contrary to initial claims that the Tea Party targeting was a product of rogue employees in the IRS's Cincinnati office, the Oversight Committee memo shows that as early as February 2010, Cincinnati employees were flagging Tea Party applications for Washington's attention, and their stated motive was media interest:
The potential for media attention continued to be a concern for IRS officials once Washington received additional sample cases in late March 2010. Upon receiving the cases in Washington, an IRS employee reviewing the application reiterated that "[t]he concern is potential for media attention." Around the same time that the Washington Post was running columns critical of the Tea Party, she added that "[t]he Tea Party movement is covered in the Post almost daily. I expect to see more applications.""Other IRS employees also monitored news about conservative-leaning groups applying for tax exemption," according to the memo:
In March 2012, a line attorney in the IRS Chief Counsel's office circulated a New York Times editorial entitled "The I.R.S. Does Its Job" to three colleagues. The first sentence of the editorial read: "Taxpayers should be encouraged by complaints from Tea Party chapters applying for nonprofit tax status at being asked by the Internal Revenue Service to prove they are 'social welfare' organizations and not the political activities they so obviously are."In May we faulted the Times for "cheering on the IRS" as it abused its power. Now we have confirmation that the IRS got the message