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Beltway Confidential

IRS won't say whether it will discipline employees over targeting of Tea Party groups

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Beltway Confidential,Taxes,Michal Conger

An Internal Revenue Service spokeswoman told reporters on a hastily-arranged conference call Friday that employees targeting Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny during the 2012 election weren't acting out of political bias, but she couldn't name any groups with less conservative-sounding names. 

“I only said that because I never like to say ‘absolutely not.’ I don’t have any information on that," she admitted by the end of the call, according to the Washington Post's Aaron Blake

Lois Lerner, who heads the unit that oversees tax-exempt groups, at first appeared to say no one would be disciplined, then corrected herself to say "no" meant she wouldn't answer the question about discipline according to the Post. 

She attributed the practice to low-level employees in Cincinnati, and said no high-level officials were aware of what was happening. 

None of the approximately 300 flagged groups lost their tax-exempt status, she added, according to FoxNews.com. About one quarter of the groups singled out for further review had the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their application. 

Lerner reportedly blundered her way through the call, at one point admitting, "I'm not good at math." She added that she is a lawyer, not an accountant, but the comment quickly spread through Twitter, adding to the uproar over the IRS apology. 

She and her staff also tried to get off the call after less than a half hour of questions, but Columbia Journalism Review reporter David Cay Johnston made them stay on the call, the Post said. 

The IRS apologized this morning for targeting conservative groups during the election, more than a year after tea party groups called attention to the practice. Lerner admitted at a conference in Washington that the groups had been inappropriately flagged. 

The agency attempted to downplay the incident in a statement later, pointing to the high number of applications it received and said the Cincinnati employees were attempting to "centralize" them. 

"While centralizing cases for consistency made sense, the way we initially centralized them did not," the statement said. "Mistakes were made initially, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan rationale. We fixed the situation last year and have made significant progress in moving the centralized cases through our system." 

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