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Oversight Democrats: A Republican IRS official started the Tea Party targeting

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,Tea Party,IRS,Scandals

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., concluded that there was no politically-motivated targeting of conservatives, according to a new report issued by Democrats on the oversight panel, even though Tea Party groups had so many applications flagged for review.

"[T]he overwhelming evidence before the committee reveals no political motivation or White House involvement in the screening of tax-exempt applications," says the report from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Democrats.

Cummings cites the testimony of a "self-identified 'conservative Republican'" who worked as a manager in the office where much of the errant scrutiny took place as evidence of political impartiality.

"[T]he Manager denied that he or anyone on his team was directed by the White House to take these actions or that they were politically motivated," the Cummings report says. "Instead, he explained that the first case at issue in this investigation was initially flagged by one of his own screeners in 2010. He explained that he initiated the first effort to gather similar cases in order to ensure their consistent treatment, and that he took this action on his own, without any direction from his superiors. He also confirmed that one of his screeners developed terms subsequently identified by the Inspector General as 'inappropriate,' such as 'Patriot' and '9/12 project,' but that he did not become aware that his screener was using these terms until more than a year later."

The subordinate who developed those terms "has no political affiliation" and denied any White House influence.

Oversight Democrats quoted another Republican IRS employee who blamed the flagging of Tea Party groups on a lack of guidance provided to IRS employees in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"This is purely cases that, unfortunately, Cincinnati didn't have enough guidance on," the tax law specialist in Washington said. "That (c)(4) area is a very, very difficult area, and there's not much guidance. And so the lingering length of time, unfortunately, was just trying to apply the law to the specific facts of each case.”

ABC News reported last May that "Cincinnati was far from the only IRS office where agents put conservative groups seeking tax exempt status under heightened scrutiny," noting that IRS agents in Washington also questioned Tea Party groups.

And a report released by Oversight Republicans quotes another IRS employees complaining that Cincinnati staffers were being wrongly blamed.

"I still hear people saying we were low level employees, so we were lower than dirt, according to people in D.C. So, take it for what it is," the employee testified. "They were basically throwing us underneath the bus."

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