Five IRS Controversy Falsehoods Manufactured By Right-Wing Media

Right-wing media have been pushing multiple dubious claims related to the recent revelation that the IRS used inappropriate criteria to scrutinize some conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Media Matters has compiled five of the worst offenders.

CLAIM: Washington Ordered Additional Scrutinizing Of Conservative Groups

Fox News Anchor Bret Baier: IRS Employees Say “It Does In Fact Go Right To Washington.” On Fox & Friends, Special Report anchor Bret Baier pushed the claim that excerpts from congressional interviews of IRS employees that have been released so far show that the IRS tax-exempt organization division was ordered by Washington to target conservative organizations applying for tax-exempt status:

BAIER: I think this is the focus, is whether it goes right to Washington. You have Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee saying he's got interviews with these Cincinnati IRS agents saying, it does in fact go right to Washington, and he's going to lay that out this week. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/3/13, via Media Matters]

REALITY: No Evidence Of Alleged Link Has Been Provided

Rep. Cummings: Washington Link Claim “Reckless” And “Inconsistent With The Findings Of The Inspector General.” In a statement released June 3, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of which Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) is chairman, said that Issa has provided no evidence to back up his claim that IRS officials in Washington were complicit in the targeting.

So far, no witnesses who have appeared before the Committee have identified any IRS official in Washington DC who directed employees in Cincinnati to use 'tea party' or similar terms to screen applicants for extra scrutiny.  Chairman Issa's reckless statements today are inconsistent with the findings of the Inspector General, who spent more than a year conducting his investigation.  Rather than lobbing unsubstantiated conclusions on national television for political reasons, we need to work in a bipartisan way to follow the facts where they lead and ensure that the IG's recommendations are fully implemented. We must have a sincere effort to uncover the truth so that we can restore the public's trust in the IRS. [Statement of Rep. Elijah Cummings, 6/2/13]

Sen. Graham: “No Evidence” That Orders To Scrutinize Conservative Groups Came From the White House. A June 3 Hill article quoted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as saying during an interview on Fox News Radio's Kilmeade and Friends that while he didn't believe the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS was “something thought up in the Cincinnati office” he had “no evidence” that the IRS was directed by the White House to do so. [The Hill, 6/3/13]

CLAIM: Obama Didn't Hold Anyone Accountable For IRS Actions

Bill O'Reilly: On IRS Targeting, President Obama “Is Not Holding Anyone Accountable. That's Absolutely True.” Bill O'Reilly claimed during a segment of his show on the IRS' inappropriate targeting of conservative groups that “I think to be fair on this we have to say a few things definitely. That President Obama is not holding anyone accountable. That's absolutely true,” and then suggested that the president should “be scolded for that.” [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 5/23/12, via Media Matters]

REALITY: Administration Has Disciplined IRS Officials And Opened Criminal Investigation

Obama Administration Fired Steven Miller, Acting IRS Commissioner. A May 15 Yahoo! News article reported that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew fired Steven Miller, the acting commissioner of the IRS, in response to the IRS actions, and said that anyone responsible will be held accountable:

Obama said he had reviewed the Treasury Department Inspector General's report that details how the IRS targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.

“The misconduct that it uncovered is inexcusable. It's inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it and I am angry about it,” the president said in a brief prepared statement. “I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency--but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives.”

Obama said the “responsible parties” will be held accountable. Lew “took the first step by requesting--and accepting--the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS because given the controversy surrounding this audit, it's important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward,” Obama added. [Yahoo! News, 5/15/13]

Obama Administration Put Lois Lerner On Administrative Leave. A May 23 Washington Post article reported that Lois Lerner, who was in charge of the tax-exempt organizations division of the IRS while the targeting of conservative groups occurred, was placed on administrative leave in response to the IRS controversy:

Lois Lerner, the director of the tax-exempt organizations division at the Internal Revenue Service, has been placed on administrative leave, sources in Congress and the administration confirm. 


Lerner has been a federal employee for 34 years, holding positions at the Justice Department, the Federal Elections Commission and the IRS. She became director of the IRS's tax-exempt unit in 2006. [The Washington Post, Post Politics, 5/23/13]

Attorney General Eric Holder Ordered A Criminal Investigation. A May 14 Bloomberg article reported that Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a criminal investigation into misconduct at the IRS following news of the agency's targeting of conservative organizations:

Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a criminal investigation into the U.S. Internal Revenue Service's targeting of small-government advocacy groups for extra scrutiny.

“The FBI is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken in connection with those matters related to the IRS,” Holder said at a news conference today. [Bloomberg, 5/14/13]

CLAIM: Former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman's Visits To White House Tie WH To IRS Targeting

Fox's Doocy Exclaimed That “Coordinating” Was The Reason Shulman Visited The White House. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy implied that former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman's visits to the White House were about “coordinating” targeting of conservative organizations:

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): In fact, there should have been a revolving door into the White House because he visited so much he actually outdistanced and out-lapped many people like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Timothy Geithner and even Eric Holder. This guy visited the White House 157 times, only for an Easter egg roll is the only one he could remember going there for -- what else was he doing there?

DOOCY: Coordinating. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/30/13, via Media Matters]

Doocy: “To Some Critics It Does Look As If He Kept Going To The White House To Coordinate Some Sort Of Political Opposition Against The President's Opponents.” Later in the Fox & Friends segment, Doocy said “some critics” are accusing the White House of coordinating the IRS' inappropriate targeting of conservative groupls applying for tax-exempt status:

DOOCY: To some critics it does look as if he kept going to the White House to coordinate some sort of political opposition against the president's opponents. Is that what happened? Well if Mr. Shulman ever does answer the questions fully, maybe we'll know. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/30/13, via Media Matters]

REALITY: Shulman Did Not Visit White House As Much As Claimed And Mostly Attended Meetings On Implementing Health Care Reform

White House Visitor Logs “Only Reflect The Information The White House Chooses To Record.” A May 23 Washington Post article reported that the White House logs “only show some visits” and are therefore unreliable:

The Post's database of White House visitor logs doesn't tell the whole story. The logs only reflect the information the White House chooses to record. It certainly doesn't show what regular guests some Cabinet secretaries are at the campus centered around 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.--which we explained by noting that “bigwigs...most often get waved in,” rather than having to get logged in like the rest of the commoners.

Cabinet secretaries sometimes get the formal log-in treatment at official events at the White House--often when they are accompanied by spouses or other family members to events like state dinners or barbeques. [The Washington Post, In the Loop, 5/23/12]

White House Visitor Logs Not Intended As “Comprehensive Means Of Documenting Every Visitor To The White House.” A May 31 Atlantic article explains that the White House visitor logs are not meant to be a complete record of appointments, nor is it an accurate account of White House-specific guests:

The real problem with combing through the White House visitor logs is that they were a system designed for Secret Service clearance and White House security, not as comprehensive means of documenting every visitor to the White House, high to low. They miss the top end and some of the social end of people visiting the White House -- people who are cleared through separate processes designed to protect presidential security other than getting swiped in at the front gate for an appointment.


The lay reader understands the White House to be the big white mansion with the columns and the Oval Office and the West Wing and the presidential family living in residence. The Daily Caller talked about visits to “the president's home.” But the White House visitors' records cover the entire White House complex -- the big famous white building, along with the freestanding Eisenhower Executive Office Building inside the gated compound and the New Executive Office Building, which is up 17th Street and outside the White House gates.

The vast majority of Shulman's scheduled meetings were to take place in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building -- 115 of them. Another three were slated for the NEOB. That leaves just 25 percent of the meetings in the White House itself, or on its South Lawn. [The Atlantic, 5/31/13]

Shulman Mostly Visited With Staffers In Charge Of Implementing The Affordable Care Act. The Huffington Post reported on May 31 that the majority of Shulman's visits logged in the White House records were concerning implementation of the administration's health care law, the Affordable Care Act:

But overall, the vast majority of Shulman's visits recorded in the White House visitor logs were to the Old Executive Office Building and with officials involved in implementing the new health care law -- indicating that the main conspiracy unearthed here is one to implement a law passed by Congress. [The Huffington Post, 5/31/13]

CLAIM: IRS Continuing To Scrutinize And “Harass” Conservative Groups

ACLJ's Jay Sekulow Complained That, Despite Investigation, IRS Was Continuing To “Harass” Conservative Groups He Represents In Court. American Center for Law and Justice's chief counsel Jay Sekulow appeared on America's Newsroom to discuss the IRS controversy. Sekulow complained that, despite the ongoing investigation, the IRS was continuing to apply heavy scrutiny to the conservative groups that he represents in court. As evidence, he cited an eight-page compliance letter that an unnamed nonprofit received which contained, according to Sekulow, “intrusive questions,” that amounted “harassment.” Sekulow provided no evidence that the groups he represents were targets of the same tactics. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 5/29/13, via Media Matters]

REALITY: Legal Experts Say The IRS Must Continue Assessing Whether Groups Are Eligible For Nonprofit Status

Loyola Law School Professor: “The IRS Should Be More, Not Less, Inquisitive, But It Should Do So In An Even-Handed Fashion.” In a May 16 Huffington Post article, editor of the Loyola University Law School's PoLawTics blog Jessica Levinson explained “the problem isn't that the IRS asked for too much information from organizations seeking favorable tax treatment, it is that they only asked for that information from conservative organizations”:

[O]nce an organization obtains non-profit status under section 501c4 of the IRS code, any political fundraising by that organization is essentially clothed in secrecy. This is a perilous state of affairs. When organizations “speak” to us by spending money to try to influence whom we chose to represent us in our government, then we the people have an important interest in knowing the identities, the true identities, behind those attempting to persuade us.


While there has been a good deal of public outcry concerning the IRS' admitted targeting of certain organizations applying for nonprofit status, the problem isn't that the IRS asked for too much information from organizations seeking favorable tax treatment, it is that they only asked for that information from conservative organizations. The IRS should be more, not less, inquisitive, but it should do so in an even-handed fashion. [The Huffington Post, 5/16/13]

Loyola Law School Professor: “An Organization That Seeks An IRS Acknowledgment Of Its Exempt Status Subjects Itself To Scrutiny.” In a Roll Call op-ed, Loyola Law School professor Ellen Aprill wrote:

IRS employees who review applications for exemption have a duty to ask follow-up questions of applicants, including groups affiliated with the tea party. In the current controversy, IRS reviewers wrongly singled out conservative groups for unusually exacting follow-up. In a number of these cases, they also asked inappropriate questions, such as the identity of donors.

Some media reports, however, imply that the IRS cannot and should not ask any questions of applicants for exemption, that any inquiry invades privacy and violates the First Amendment. That implication is wrong. An organization that seeks an IRS acknowledgment of its exempt status subjects itself to scrutiny -- scrutiny designed to ensure that the group in fact qualifies for the benefit of tax exemption. [Roll Call, 5/23/13]

UNC Law Professor: “It Seems Fairly Clear That Many Of The C4s Are In Fact Breaking The Law.” Thomas Kelley, University of North Carolina School of Law professor, explained that “many organizations are using c4s to engage in campaign activity while hiding their donors' identities”:

While on the subject of the IRS's current monitoring of c4 organizations, it should not be forgotten that it seems fairly clear that many of the c4s are in fact breaking the law, and that, after Citizens' United, many organizations are using c4s to engage in campaign activity while hiding their donors' identities. [, 5/22/13] 

Ezra Klein: “The IRS Scandal Is About Targeting Conservatives, Not Scrutinizing 501(c)(4)s.”  On the Washington Post's Wonkblog, Ezra Klein explained that the “scandal is about targeting conservatives, not scrutinizing 501(c)(4)s,” and how "[t]he scrutiny was the part they did right":

Here's what Sekulow is saying: Tea party groups received questions about their political activities that originated from a variety of different IRS offices, not just Cincinnati. That's not necessarily a problem and it's not even new information.

It was proper that the tea party groups received heavy scrutiny. As the New York Times has firmly established, many of them were primarily political groups that potentially didn't qualify for 501(c)(4) status.


Sekulow is trying to widen the scandal by changing the premise: He's arguing that the real problem here was the actual questioning of tea party groups applying for 501(c)(4) status, and so anyone who participated in the work of trying to follow up on the applications chosen for extra scrutiny did something wrong. That gets this backwards: The problem wasn't that the IRS closely scrutinized questionable applications from tea party groups. It's that they didn't closely scrutinized the applications from other questionable groups as well. The scrutiny was the part they did right. The targeting was the part they did wrong. [The Washington Post, Wonkblog, 5/29/13]

CLAIM: Excerpts Of IRS Employee Interviews Revealed Targeting Orders Came From Washington

Daily Mail's David Martosko: Excerpts “Have Established That The Washington, D.C. Headquarters” Of IRS Was Targeting Conservative Groups. Daily Mail Online political editor David Martosko wrote that during an appearance by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa on CNN, Issa showed that excerpts of congressional interviews of IRS employees “established” that Washington IRS officials were responsible for targeting conservative organizations:

Interviews with IRS employees have established that the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service was engaged in targeting tea party groups and other conservative organizations for unfair levels of scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.

Rep. Darrel lssa, chairman of powerful House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform, made that startling announcement on CNN Sunday morning. [Daily Mail Online, 6/2/13]'s Kerry Picket: Excerpts “Made It Clear” IRS Employees Were Told By Washington Supervisors To Target Conservative Groups.'s Kerry Picket posted the excerpts from interviews with IRS employees and wrote:

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) revealed new testimony from IRS employees on CNN's State of The Union on Sunday. According to transcribed excerpts released by the Committee, a Cincinnati IRS employee made it clear they were told by Washington, D.C. personnel to give extra scrutiny to Tea Party groups. [, 6/2/13]

Wall Street Journal: Congressional Republicans “Suggest Washington Officials Underplayed Their Involvement.” On June 2, The Wall Street Journal cited the comments of Congressional Republicans to implicate Washington officials:

Congressional Republicans separately on Sunday released excerpts from interviews by congressional investigators with two unnamed IRS employees that the lawmakers say suggest Washington officials underplayed their involvement in the Cincinnati office's extra scrutiny of conservative organizations. Both IRS employees, who work in Cincinnati, are quoted saying they were following orders that originated in Washington to target tea-party and other conservative groups. [The Wall Street Journal6/2/13]

REALITY: Issa Admitted There Was No Proof Yet That Targeting Orders Came From Washington

Issa Acknowledged One Of The Excerpts Was “Not Definitive” That Targeting Originated In Washington. During a June 2 interview on CNN's State of the Union, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa agreed with host Candy Crowley that one of the excerpts from the interviews with IRS employees that he selectively leaked, after she read it on the air, is “totally not definitive”:

CROWLEY: And one of the excerpts we were given, and I want to talk about how problematic it is to get excerpts, because we know that you interviewed these people probably for hours and you get little excerpts which it's hard for us to kind of judge what's going on, but here's one of those -- just some IRS agent, again, from the Cincinnati office.

The investigator said, “so is it your perspective that ultimately the responsible parties for the decisions that were reported by the IG,” that is the decision that target tea party and Patriot applications, “are not in the Cincinnati office?”

The employee says, “I don't know how to answer that question. I mean, from an agent standpoint, we didn't do anything wrong. We followed directions based on other people telling us what to do.”

Investigator, “and you ultimately followed directions from Washington, is that correct?”

The employee, “if direction had come down from Washington, yes.”

The investigator, “but with respect to the particular scrutiny that was given to Tea Party applications, those directions emanated from Washington, is that right?”

The employee answers, “I believe so.”

It's totally not definitive.

ISSA: Well, that one isn't. 

CROWLEY: Right. [CNN, State of the Union6/2/13]

Issa Said “We're Getting To Proving” Targeting Originated In Washington In Response To Whether He Will Release Full Transcripts Of Interviews. After Crowley questioned Issa on whether he will release complete transcripts, he responded by promising to do so but said that Republicans are still “getting to proving” their accusation that IRS supervisors in Washington, D.C., orchestrated the inappropriate targeting of conservative groups:

CROWLEY: Why don't you put the whole thing out? Because you know our problem really is -- and you know that your critics say that Republicans and you in particular sort of cherry pick information that go to your foregone conclusion, so it worries us to put this kind of stuff out. Can you not put the whole transcript out?

ISSA: The whole transcript will be put out. We understand -- these are in real time. And the administration is still -- they're paid liar, their spokesperson, picture behind, he's still making up things about what happens in calling this local rogue. There's no indication -- the reason the Lois Lerner tried to take the fifth is not because there is a rogue in Cincinnati, it's because this is a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters and we're getting to proving it.

We have 18 more transcribed interviews to do. 

CROWLEY: But as yet, you don't -- you don't have that direct link. You have the front line agents going, yeah, I mean, we figured it was from Washington or I believe it was, but as of yet you don't have that definitive, yeah, this guy called me and said, people, go look for Tea Party and Patriot applications. [CNN, State of the Union6/2/13]