(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
There is "not even a smidgen of corruption" at the Internal Revenue Service, President Barack Obama recently declared in response to a question about IRS harassment of conservative groups. Here is a timeline of the events to which Obama was referring:
May 10, 2013: In response to a question from an interviewer at the American Bar Association conference in Washington, D.C., Lois Lerner, director of the tax-exempt organizations division at the IRS, says that her division improperly targeted non-profit groups with the words "patriot" or "tea party" in their names for additional scrutiny. Lerner apologized and said it was not politically motivated but happened because of a botched effort by low-level IRS officials in Cincinnati.
"That was wrong, that was absolutely incorrect, insensitive, and inappropriate," Lerner said.
May 13, 2013: In a press conference, President Barack Obama says the targeting of conservative groups is "outrageous and there's no place for it." Those responsible "have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they're ... applying the laws in a nonpartisan way."
May 14, 2013: The timing of Lerner's announcement becomes clear when an Inspector General report is released saying that the IRS used inappropriate criteria to identify which tax-exempt organizations were in need of further review.
May 14, 2013: Franklin Graham writes a letter to Obama saying that he believes the IRS also targeted two organizations that he leads – the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse.
May 15, 2013: Steven Miller steps down as acting commissioner of the IRS after being asked to do so by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
May 16, 2013: Daniel Werfel is appointed to replace Miller.
May 16, 2013: Dr. James Dobson reveals that his organization, Family Talk Action, was also harassed by the IRS and his application for tax-exempt status was delayed. The IRS agent overseeing his application incorrectly told Dobson that tax-exempt organizations must present all political views and he could be denied tax-exempt status for criticizing the president.
May 20, 2013: The Washington Post's fact checker, Glenn Kessler, compares the IG report with what Lerner said. He writes that Lerner gets a "bushel of Pinocchios" for three false statements she made, including: that there was an increase in applications for 501(c)4 tax-exempt status in the period that conservative groups were targeted (there was actually a decrease in applications); she only heard that conservative groups were complaining about IRS harassment in the fall of 2012 after reading news reports about it (she was briefed in June 2011); and Lerner's claim that she revealed the problem only four days before the IG report because "I don't believe anyone ever asked me that question before" (Lerner planted the question by asking the interviewer ahead of time to ask her the question).
May 22, 2013: Lerner appears at a House committee hearing, makes a statement claiming she did nothing wrong, then invokes her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) objects, saying she waived her Fifth Amendment rights when she made an opening statement.
May 23, 2013: Werfel asks Lerner to resign. She refuses. Werfel places Lerner on administrative leave. Lerner will continue to receive full pay and benefits while on leave.
May 29, 2013: Twenty-five Tea Party and conservative organizations jointly sue the IRS in federal court.
June 2, 2013: The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee releases transcripts of interviews with two IRS Cincinnati employees. When asked if he believes the targeting of conservative groups "emanated from Washington," one of them answered, "I believe so."
June 4, 2013: Dr. John Eastman, chairman of the board for the National Organization for Marriage, testifies before the House Ways and Means Committee that someone at the IRS provided NOM's confidential tax records to the Human Rights Campaign, a rival political advocacy group.
June 10, 2013: A pro-life group releases an audio file showing them getting harassed by an IRS official. The official incorrectly tells them that their tax-exempt status regulates the manner in which they can lawfully inform the public about abortion.
"Your action is based on more blind, emotional feelings," the IRS agent states. "You want to do something good for the society, your religion, and we understand that. But meanwhile, we want you to be aware that, you know, when you conduct religious activities, meanwhile you have to respect other people's beliefs, other people's religion. You cannot use any kind of, you know, confrontation way, or to, or against other groups or devalue other groups, other people's beliefs."
June 12, 2012: Elizabeth Hofacre, one of the Cincinnati IRS officials that Lerner blamed for the scandal, provides testimony to House Oversight Committee investigators. The public is being purposely misled by Lerner, she claimed. Oversight in the IRS is so tightly controlled, she said, that an intentional targeting of select groups by a rouge office for "three years, even for three months, it would never happen."
August 1, 2013: Thomas More Society provides over 200 pages of documentation to the House Ways and Means Committee showing that the IRS had continued to harass three pro-life organizations even after the scandal was revealed.
September 11, 2013: The House Ways and Means Committee releases emails by Lois Lerner from February 2011 showing that IRS interest in Tea Party groups came from her, not the Cincinnati office. The emails suggest she may have even directed the targeting of conservative groups.
In a Feb. 1, 2011, email to fellow IRS executive Holly Paz, Lerner writes, "Tea Party matter very dangerous. This could be the vehicle to go to court on the issue over whether Citizen's United overturning the ban on corporate spending applies to tax exempt rules ... Cincy should probably NOT have these cases – Holly please see what they have please."
"Cincy" is a reference to the IRS office in Cincinnati.
In another email sent on July 10, 2012, Lerner shows her partisan inclinations. She is forwarded an article showing Democrats complaining about anonymous donors influencing Senate races. She responds by writing, "Perhaps the FEC will save the day."
September 23, 2013: Lerner announces her retirement from the IRS. She is still eligible for her pension.
October 1, 2013: Dr. Ben Carson says that he had his first encounter with the IRS after giving a widely reported speech at the National Prayer Breakfast that was critical of Obama's healthcare policies.
October 3, 2013: NOM sues the IRS for the release of its confidential tax information to HRC.
December 5, 2013: In an interview on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews," Obama complains about liberals who were outraged at the IRS scandal. In his wording, he also suggests that those liberals who did express outrage are not true liberals.
"There are some so-called progressives and perceived-to-be liberal commentators who, during that week, were just as outraged at the possibility that these folks had been, at the direction of the Democratic Party, in some way discriminated against," he said.
January 8, 2014: Two Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee send a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to remove Barbara Bosserman as the highest ranking official overseeing the Justice Department's investigation into the IRS scandal. Bosserman, the letter shows, had made political contributions to the Democratic National Committee and Obama's re-election campaign.
These donations suggest Bosserman has a conflict of interest when investigating the abuse of government power against conservatives in political campaigns, they argue.
February 2, 2014: As six investigations into the IRS scandal continue (two in the House, two in the Senate, one by the Justice Department and one by the IRS itself), Obama declares in a nationally televised interview that there was "not even a smidgen of corruption" at the IRS.
The targeting of conservative groups was simply the result of "bone-headed" decisions by IRS employees in Cincinnati, he added. Obama supported this view by saying, "There have been multiple hearings on it."
February 3, 2014: ABC's Jonathan Karl asks White House spokesperson Jay Carney to explain why the president is able to prejudge the outcome of an ongoing investigation.
Carney answered that Obama knows the outcome of those investigations because of what he read in the IG report and what he has learned from testimony that has been given. Obama's views are backed up by "20 different news organizations," Carney added.
February 5, 2014: At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing into the IRS scandal, evidence was revealed suggesting that the targeting of conservative groups was directed by high-level officials in Washington, D.C.
In February 2010, an IRS employee in Cincinnati flagged an application from a conservative group in a communications to his superiors in Washington with the note: "Recent media attention to this type of organization indicates to me that this is a 'high profile' case." After that, similar applications were routed through the offices of Lerner and IRS chief counsel William Wilkins, an Obama-appointee.
February 6, 2014: Catherine Engelbrecht testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that after she filed two applications for her non-profit Tea Party group, True the Vote, her family, her private company and her nonprofit organizations experienced 15 separate audits or inquiries by federal agencies, including the IRS, FBI, OSHA, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (even though her company does not sell alcohol, tobacco nor firearms), and one member of Congress.